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Mirror back - A knight offering his heart to a lady

A knight offering his heart to a lady

  • Object:

    Mirror back

  • Place of origin:

    Italian (probably North Italian, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1380-1390 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Elephant ivory

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Sydney Vacher

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This fragment of an ivory mirror back was made in about 1380-90, probably in Northern Italy (Milan). It depicts a knight offering his heart to a lady.
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.

Gothic ivory mirror backs survive in considerable numbers. The ivory cases themselves, usually between 8 and 14 cm in diameter, consisted of two paired ivory discs (described here as ‘mirror backs’), often with four crawling monsters or lions (or leaves) carved around the outer edge. These ornamental features would transform the circle into a square and make the opening of the case easier, although their vulnerability to breakage is now all too evident.
The majority of the ivory mirror cases and their leather boxes must have been purchased as expensive gifts, to be presented by the wealthy élite to their friends, family and lovers, and often as wedding presents. The subject matter of the mirror backs was almost exclusively secular.

Physical description

Fragment of a mirror back depicting a knight offering a heart to a lady in a garden flanked by buildings. The subjects is within a quatrefoil, the spandrils of which are filled with tracery and roses.
He is wearing a belted and buttoned pourpoint with sword and the lady is dressed in a houppelande with long tippets hanging from the sleeves at the elbows; her hair is braided and netted. The walls of a palace or castle are shown at each side and the figures are separated by a tree which grows oput of rocky ground.

Place of Origin

Italian (probably North Italian, made)


ca. 1380-1390 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Elephant ivory


Height: 8.9 cm, Width: 5.71 cm

Object history note

Given by Sydney Vacher, Oxted, Surrey, in 1920; previous history not known.

Descriptive line

Mirror back, ivory, fragment, a knight offering his heart to a lady, probably North Italian (Milan), ca. 1380-1390

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. 49
Randall, Richard H. The Golden age of Ivory: Gothic carvings in North American Collections. New York: Hudson Hills Press. 1993, cat. no. 213
Review [1911-1938], Victoria & Albert Museum. Review of the Principal Acquisitions during the Year, London, 1920, p. 3
part II, pp. 602-603
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. 602-603, cat. no. 207



Subjects depicted

Knight; Tracery; Roses; Castle; Lady; Tree; Garden; Buildings




Sculpture Collection

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