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Oliphant - Story of Saint Eustace

Story of Saint Eustace

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    France (Paris or Lower Rhenish (Cologne), made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1300 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Elephant ivory, silver and silver-gilt with traces of coloured resin

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is an ivory horn, made in Paris or Cologne, in about 1300.
Ivory was used all over Europe for religious works of art. It was often combined with precious metals and usually took the form of relief panels, for book covers, portable altars and caskets. An almost unbroken tradition of ivory carving extends from the Roman and Byzantine empires until the end of the 14th century. From about 1250, Paris became the centre of production for figures and reliefs intended for private devotion. Other workshops emerged in Italy and Germany. Some of the craftsmen may have been trained in Paris as their work often combines French and local styles.
The female head of the mouthpiece of the horn is extremely unsual, not least for its characteristic elaborate coiffure, and it is this element that has led to its being dismissed in the past as a nineteenth century forgery. The narrative of the horn is as well unusual in that it cuts the story off at the point of Eustace and his family fleeing in the dead of night, an unsatifactory ending by any standard.

Physical description

The horn is ribbed into thirteen facets. At the top is a band of relief decoration which depicts the story of St. Eustace, and runs from right to left around the bell of the horn. The narrative consists of Eustace riding out to hunt and sounding his horn while a beater gestures forwards; the stag pursued by hounds; Eustace dismounted and with hands clasped in prayer before the image of a crowned head (representing Christ) appearing between the stag's antlers; and finally, Eustace (his head covered and holding a staff), his wife and their two sons fleeing the city. Areas of the background of this frieze are stained slightly pink in colour. The mouthpiece is carved in the likeness of a woman’s head and shoulders, her hair dressed in an elaborate coiffure, and bound with a pricked diadem. Two silver-gilt bands encircle the horn at the upper and lower ends, while two straps run between them; all are decorated with bas-relief and engraved decoration depicting grotesque beasts facing one another. These include dragons, hybrids with human faces, but also a rabbit and a dog. The vertical straps each bear three applied silver shields. Reading from top to bottom, these depict the crowned lion of Bohemia, the arms of the Duchy of Austria, and the Wittelsbach arms of Bavaria.

Place of Origin

France (Paris or Lower Rhenish (Cologne), made)


ca. 1300 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Elephant ivory, silver and silver-gilt with traces of coloured resin


Length: 38.8 cm, Diameter: 9 cm max. diameter

Object history note

Formerly Lord Londesborough collection (before 1862); then Londesborough sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 10 July 1888, lot 777 (bought Marks, for George Salting); then Salting collection. Bequeathed to the V&A by Salting, in 1910 (no. 908).

Descriptive line

Hunting horn (oliphant), ivory and silver, Story of St. Eustace, French (Paris) or Lower Rhenish (Cologne), ca. 1300

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

'Salting Bequest (A. 70 to A. 1029-1910) / Murray Bequest (A. 1030 to A. 1096-1910)'. In: List of Works of Art Acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum (Department of Architecture and Sculpture). London: Printed under the Authority of his Majesty's Stationery Office, by Eyre and Spottiswoode, Limited, East Harding Street, EC, p. 94
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part II. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1929, p. 51
I, pp. 154 (note 1), 459-460, II, cat. no. 1248, III, pl. CCV
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
part II, pp. 732-737
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. 732-737, cat. no. 250


Ivory; Silver; Gold; Resin


Carving; Gilding

Subjects depicted

Hounds; Monsters; Horn; Horse; Stag; Dog; Woman; Diadem; Leafs; Rabbit; Animals


Accessories; Sculpture; Hunting


Sculpture Collection

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