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  • Place of origin:

    France (possibly, or South Netherlands, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1690 - ca. 1710 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved ivory

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This ivory handle of a knife or fork is formed as nude female figure with a serpent is likely to be French or South Netherlandish, and to date from the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century.
Ivory was a luxury material, and was sometimes used for fine cutlery handles. The tines of the fork have here been lost.
Knives have been used since prehistoric times, but the history of knives, forks and spoons for eating in Europe probably commenced in the fourteenth century, and their use became accepted by the sixteenth century. Until the late seventeenth century it seems to have been common practice for people to carry their own cutlery, often in a leather case.
Ebony, ivory, fish skin, tortoiseshell, amber, bone, horn and shell were all popular for decorating cutlery. Around 1730 ceramic handles were introduced to Europe from China. Although cutlers were required by their guilds to be able to make a complete knife, handles of carved ivory, silver, bronze and glass were usually imported or made by specialist craftsmen.

Physical description

Handle is carved with a female nude allegorical figure, with a serpent at her breast in a sheath of foliage. The nipples and pupils of the eyes of the woman and of the serpent have been hollowed out and coloured black.

Place of Origin

France (possibly, or South Netherlands, made)


ca. 1690 - ca. 1710 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved ivory


Length: 8.5 cm

Object history note

Bought from the Soulages Collection in 1859.

Descriptive line

Handle, of fork or knife, carved ivory, naked woman with a serpent, French or South Netherlandish, ca. 1690-1710

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

Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1860. In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 32
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part II. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1929, p. 75
Robinson, John Charles. Catalogue of the Soulages Collection. London: Chapman & Hall, 1856
p. 432
Trusted, Marjorie, Baroque & Later Ivories, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2013
Trusted, Marjorie, Baroque & Later Ivories, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2013, p. 432, cat. no. 462





Subjects depicted

Serpent; Nude female figure


Eating; Household objects; Sculpture; Tableware & cutlery


Sculpture Collection

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