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Mirror case - A Lady Crowning her Lover

A Lady Crowning her Lover

  • Object:

    Mirror case

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1300 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Museum number:

    217-1867

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10a, The Françoise and Georges Selz Gallery, case 4

This is a celebrated mirror case, made in about 1300, in Paris. It depicts a ladt crowning her lover.
This is one of the finest of the earlier mirror cases, exemplifying the world of courtly romance in the thirteenth-century Roman de la Rose. It has been observed, however, that its iconography, far from being purely secular, seems to have been derived pointedly from religious imagery, in particular the scene of the Adoration of the Magi.

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 scene of a courtly couple playing chess (possibly Tristan and Isolde) was a metaphor for the strategies of seduction.

The major period of production of ivories lasted only a little beyond the middle of the fourteenth century. . .The waning of the French ivory industry was largely due to the disastrous financial effects of the Hundred Years War between England and France (1337-1453), yet there was no immediate end of the use of ivory as a material. The centre of the trade moved north to the new commercial centres of Flanders and the Netherlands, and there the major production was only of religious subjects (Randall 1994). With the exception of bone chess boxes and ivory combs with garden scenes and hunts, secular subject matter virtually disappeared from the scene.

Physical description

Mirror case; ivory. Depicts a lady crowning her lover, who offers his heart in covered hands. The rim of the circular mirror case is decorated with four crawling monsters. In the centre, a lady, wearing a loose dress, leans forward to crown her kneeling lover with a chaplet. The kneeling lover surrenders his heart to the lady, holding his organ in his uplifted hands, snug in the folds of his cape. To the left of the couple, slightly removed from the main action, a groom or valet, wearing a hood, raises his whip with his right hand, to control two horses, whose muzzles only protrude into the picture, while holding their reins with his left hand. The mirror case has three small holes drilled through it around the kneeling lover, and a further hole below the top of the rim; all are secondary and connected with post-medieval use. There are substantial remains of gilding in the hair of both principal figures. The back has been shaved down to fit into a later setting, so that the raised rim, although still visible, shows no sign of the usual screw thread and there is no trace of the original mirror.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)

Date

ca. 1300 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory

Dimensions

Height: 10.6 cm Measured by M Lawrence 7th April 2005, Width: 10.3 cm Measured by M Lawrence 7th April 2005, Depth: 1.3 cm Measured by M Lawrence 7th April 2005, Weight: 0.1 kg Weighed by M Lawrence 7th April 2005

Object history note

Préaux Collection, Paris, until 1850 (sale, January 9-11, 1850, lot 148); Rattier Collection, Paris (sale, March 21-24, 1859, lot 193); purchased from John Webb, London, in 1867 by Victoria & Albert Museum.

Historical significance: Danielle Gaborit-Chopin has associated the mirror case with another showing two lovers engaged in a game of chess, now in the Musée du Louvre, and suggested that both were made in the same atelier in around 1300 (Gaborit-Chopin 1978, 207). Only two other French ivroy mirror cases, now in the Museo Nazionale, Ravenna, and the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, show the single scene of a kneeling suitor being crowned by a lady, bu these do not include the horses and groom on the left (see Koechlin 1924, 3: pl. CLXXVI, no.999; Martini and Rizzardi 1990, 86-87, no. 17; and Randall 1985, 222, no. 320).

This is one of the finest of the earlier mirror cases, exemplifying the world of courtly romance in the thirteenth-century Roman de la Rose. It has been observed, however, that its iconography, far from being purely secular, seems to have been derived pointedly from religious imagery, in particular the scene of the Adoration of the Magi. Blamires has succinctly summarised the relationship by noting that the ivory carver

'challenges us to perceive the suitor as a Magus, his heart as a substitute gift of gold; hence the detail of the covered hands, which appears intermittently in Magi iconography during the Middle Ages. However, if the lover has yielded sovereignty to this "Virgin Queen" (there being no infant Monarch in question), paradoxically she inverts Adoration convention by making ready to crown him monarch of her heart. We are in the sphere of literary parlance concerning the voluntary capitulation of on'e heart. The mirror both embraces the religious archetype and alters it, to enrich quite remarkably the sentiment of reverence and self-surrender in love. (Blamires 1988, 20-21).'

Despite the fact that the feature of the horse-whipping also sometimes takes place in the scene of the Adoration of the Magi, it is possible that its presence on the mirror back should be interpreted in a different way in relatiojn to the two lovers, signifying the restraining of their mutual passion, especially as it also appears on two other mirror backs in Florence and Naples that show two lovers embracing (Gaborit-Chopin 1988a, 64-65, no.17; Giusti and Leone de Castris 1981, 98-99, no. II, 3; and Kolve 1984, 244).

(Paul Williamson, 1997, 226-227)

Historical context note

The flowering of secular ivory carving took place in Paris in the first quarter of the fourteenth century, and a variety of subjects from romance literature and daily life were represented on boxes, mirror-cases, combs, gravoirs (hair parters) and knife handles for what was apparently a considerable market . . .

. . .The ivories for secular use that appeared in profusion at the end of the first quarter of the fourteenth century were carved in the sophisticated relief style of the Paris religious ivories, which had been developed over the preceeding century in the production of diptychs and triptychs showing the lives of Christ and the Virgin.

. . . While the carved boxes were the most lavish, largest and most expensive of secular ivory products, mirror cases and combs were the most numerous and of greater utility. The guild of pigniers (comb makers) sold combs and mirrors together, sometimes with a hair parter in a leather case. Many accounts survive, such as one of the duke of Burgundy in 1367:

'Jean de Couilli, pignier, demourant à Paris, 5 fr., pour un estui garni de pignes et de mireour d’yvoire, qu’il a baillez et deliverez pour Mgr. à Guillemin Hannot, son barbier et valet de chambre.' (Jean de Couilli, comb maker, living in Paris, 5 francs for a case including combs and a mirror of ivory, which he has taken and delivered for Mgr. Guillemin Hannot, his barber and valet de chambre).
(Prost 1902, 266, no. 1460)

More mirror cases have survived than any other form of secular ivory. They are thin discs carved on the face with scenes of lovers, the Attack on the Castle of Love, or other subjects, while the back was so designed that a polished metal disc could be inserted to serve as a mirror. The ivory plaque was squared off for ease of handling and stability when set on a shelf by four corner terminals, each in the form of a small, long-eared biped monster with a long tail. The creature was in standard use by mirror makers, though an occasional example has human bipeds or lions. Many of the cases are also pierced so that they could be hung on the wall . . .

. . . The major period of production of ivories lasted only a little beyond the middle of the fourteenth century. . .The waning of the French ivory industry was largely due to the disastrous financial effects of the Hundred Years War between England and France (1337-1453), yet there was no immediate end of the use of ivory as a material. The centre of the trade moved north to the new commercial centres of Flanders and the Netherlands, and there the major production was only of religious subjects (Randall 1994). With the exception of bone chess boxes and ivory combs with garden scenes and hunts, secular subject matter virtually disappeared from the scene.

(Richard H. Randall Jr., Images In Ivory: Precious Objects of the Gothic Age, 1997, 63-79).

Descriptive line

Mirror case, ivory, a Lady Crowning her Lover, Paris, France, ca. 1300

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

Williamson, P. Images in Ivory: Precious Objects of the Gothic Agee (Detroit, Mich. : Detroit Institute of Arts ; Princeton, N.J. : in association with Princeton University Press, c1997.) pp 226-227
Gaborit-Chopin, D. L'Art au temps des rois maudits : Philippe le Bel et ses fils, 1285-1328 : Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 17 mars-29 juin, 1998
(Paris : Réunion des musées nationaux, c1998.) pp 160-161
Jean-Campbell, C. 'Courting, Harlotry and the Art of Gothic Ivory Carving', GESTA XXXIV/1 (The International Center of Medieval Art, 1995.) p 14, Fig 6, p17
Camille, M. The Medieval Art of Love: Objects and Subjects of Desire (London: Laurence King, c1998.), pp. 111-112
Koechlin, R.Les ivoires gothiques français. ( Paris, A. Picard, 1924. ) I, p. 378 and II, no. 1002
Du Sommerard, A.Les Arts du Moyen-Age ( Paris, Hôtel de Cluny [etc.] 1838-46. ) p 110 , album: 5th series, Pl. XI, 3
Blamires, A., 'The Religion of Love in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and Medieval Visual Art' in Word and Visual Imagination ( eds. K.J. Holtgen, P.M. Daly and W. Lottes ), Erlangen, 1988, pp. 18-21, fig. 2
Gaborit-Chopin, D., Ivoires du Moyen Age , Fribourg : Office du livre, cop. 1978, pp. 148, 207, pl. no. 219
Les Fastes du Gothique: le Siécle de Charles V. Paris: Éditions dela Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1981, cat. no. 122
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. 7
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929, Part II, p. 44
part II, pp. 564-565
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014
pp. 82-83
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
Marguerite, Marie-Lys and Dectot, Xavier, ed. by, D'Or et D'Ivoire, Paris, Pise, Florence, Sienne, 1250-1320, Snooeck and Louvre Lens, 2015, exh. cat., p. 258
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. 564-565, cat. no. 191

Materials

Ivory

Techniques

Carved

Subjects depicted

Heart; Love; Monsters; Horses; Groom; Woman; Man

Categories

Images Online; Accessories

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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