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Comb - Musicians and Lovers

Musicians and Lovers

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Venice (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1400 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is an ivory comb made in North Italy, Venice in about 1400. The comb is carved on both sides showing figures embracing and playing on musical instruments.

In the period between 1300 and 1325 workshops in Paris enjoyed a thriving market for secular ivory carvings. They produced mirror-cases, combs and gravoirs (hair parters), often selling them as sets in leather dressing cases. Subjects from romance literature appeared frequently, as did the allegorical Siege of the Castle of Love.

The comb has since the Antiquity been a fundamental tool for personal grooming, used both by men and women. In the Gothic period ivory was often employed for the production of deluxe decorated combs. The Gothic comb is always carved on both faces and consists of two registers of teeth, one fine, the other broader, above and below the narrative strips.
Ivory combs, together with mirror cases and gravoirs for parting the hair, formed an essential part of the trousse de toilette or étui (dressing case) of the typical wealthy lady or gentleman in the Gothic period. Considering the original ubiquity of such combs and in comparison with ivory mirror cases, a surprisingly small number survive from the fourteenth century.

Physical description

Ivory comb with figures playing on musical instruments. On one face in a recessed band running from left to right, are a man embracing a young lady, the latter turning away; a couple embracing; a lady playing a zither and flanked by two men, the one on the right lewdly parting the lady's dress at the front; a lady with a long plait playing a portable organ; a luteplayer; a couple with a bunch of flowers; and a couple with the man turning away from the lady. On the other face are a man embracing a lady who holds a chaplet in her left hand, flanked by a lady playing a tambourine and a man playing a recorder; an enigmatic trio of figures (presumably illustrating a moralizing tale or game), consisting of a naked and blindfolded bearded man with crown who puts his right arm around the young lady on the left while the male figure on the right turns away, his arms crossed apparently in anger; a lady playing a viol; a man presenting flowers to two young ladies; a man turning away as if to walk out of the scene.

Place of Origin

Venice (made)


ca. 1400 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory


Height: 11.6 cm, Width: 15.8 cm, Weight: 285 g

Object history note

In the collection of Prince Petr Soltykoff, Paris, until 1861; bought by John Webb, London, at the Soltykoff sale (Soltykoff 1861, lot 366); purchased from Webb in 1867 for £30.

Descriptive line

Comb, ivory, with figures playing instruments and scenes of love, Italian (Venice), ca. 1400

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929, Part II, p. 55
Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1867. Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol. 1. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 6
pp. 86-87
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
p. 236, pl. 1
Maskell, A., Ivories, London, 1905
part II, pp. 612-613
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014, part II, pp. 612-613, cat. no. 210
Johan Oosterman, Catalogue entry, in: Ik, Maria van Gelre. De hertogin en haar uitzonderlijke gebedenboek (1380-1429), ed. by Johan Oosterman. Nijmegen / Zwolle: Museum Het Valkhof / Waanders Uitgevers, 2018. ISBN 9789462622012. Catalogue of the exhibition held at Museum Het Valkhof Nijmegen, 13 October 2018 - 6 January 2019.



Subjects depicted

Lovers; Musical instruments; Musicians


Sculpture; Personal accessories


Sculpture Collection

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