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Staff - Tau head

Tau head

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Constantinople (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1650 - ca. 1670 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Ivory, wood, tortoise shell, mother of pearl, silver studs and metal fittings

  • Museum number:

    461:1 to 4-1877

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is a tau head and staff are made in ca. 1650-70 perhaps in Constantinople. The tau head is of ivory and formed of two reversed dragons' heads, coloured partly in red with black eyes. It is set onto a staff comprising of three parts. A closely comparable tau head is in the Iviron Monastery, of Mount Athos, which has an inscription dating it to 1662. It seems likely that the present tau head dates from about the same time. Tau heads formed the tops of crosses or staffs in the shape of a T, the Greek letter ‘tau’, hence the name.

Physical description

Staff, eight-sided wood with small plates of Tortoise shell mother of pearl, and decorated with studs and ivory knobs. The head is in ivory, the ends in the form of dragon's heads.

Place of Origin

Constantinople (made)


ca. 1650 - ca. 1670 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Ivory, wood, tortoise shell, mother of pearl, silver studs and metal fittings


Length: 164 cm whole, Height: 4 cm head alone, Width: 14 cm of head

Object history note

Bought for £8 from Caspar Purdon Clarke (1847-1911), who was to become Director of the South Kensington Museum (later renamed Victoria and Albert Museum) from 1896 to 1904. The tau head had been acquired in Corfu.

Descriptive line

Staff, ivory, wood, mother of pearl, a tau head with the ends in the form of dragon's heads, perhaps Constantinople, ca. 1650-70

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

List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington, Acquired During the Year 1877, Arranged According to the Dates of Acquisition. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., p. 41
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929, Part II, p. 115
Watts, W. W. Catalogue of Pastoral Staves. London, 1924. p. 33. cat. no. 31, pl. 19
Treasures of Mount Athos. Thessaloniki, 1997, pp. 428-429, cat. nos. 9.85, 9. 86
Trusted, Marjorie, Baroque & Later Ivories, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2013, cat. no. 324a, p. 329


Wood; Tortoise shell; Mother of pearl; Studs; Ivory

Subjects depicted



Accessories; Religion


Sculpture Collection

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