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Veroli Casket

  • Object:

    Casket

  • Place of origin:

    Istanbul, Turkey (made)

  • Date:

    second half of 10th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wood overlaid with carved ivory and bone plaques with traces of polychrome and gilding

  • Museum number:

    216-1865

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, room 8, case 15

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This casket shows scenes from classical mythology. On the lid is the Rape of Europa. In this myth Jupiter, king of the gods (the Greek Zeus), disguised himself as a bull and abducted a mortal woman. Centaurs (half-men, half-horses) and maenads (wild women) play and dance to the music of Hercules (the Greek Herakles). On the front are scenes from the stories of Bellerophon and Iphigenia. On the back is part of a dionysiac procession, with two figures identified as Mars, god of war (the Greek Ares), and Venus, goddess of love (the Greek Aphrodite). The ends bear scenes of Bacchus, god of wine (the Greek Dionysius), in a chariot drawn by panthers, and a nymph riding a seahorse.

The Veroli casket belongs to a group of Byzantine ivory and bone boxes made in the late 10th and early 11th centuries. They are known as 'Rosette caskets' because of their border decoration. The detailed treatment of the carving and the deep undercutting of the scenes mark this one out as the finest of the group. Like the Córdoba casket (Museum no. 10-1866), it was probably made for a member of the Umayyad house. (The Umayyads ruled Islam from 661 to 750 AD. Their capital was Damascus in Syria.) Originally, it must have belonged to a person of high standing, possibly at the court of the Byzantine emperor Constantine VIII (976-1028). This casket was kept in the Cathedral Treasury at Veroli, a town south-east of Rome, until 1861.

Physical description

On the top and the sides of the Veroli casket are subjects from classical myths, surrounded with bands of rosettes. The subjects may be identified as follows:
On the left of the lid, the Rape of Europa. On the right, centaurs and others playing and dancing. On the front of the casket, the stories of Bellerophon and Iphegenia, on the back a scene with children and animals and other representations of Europa, with Mars and Venus. On one end of the casket Bacchus, on the other a nymph riding a sea horse.

Place of Origin

Istanbul, Turkey (made)

Date

second half of 10th century (made)

Artist/maker

unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Wood overlaid with carved ivory and bone plaques with traces of polychrome and gilding

Dimensions

Height: 11.5 cm, Length: 40.3 cm, Width: 15.5-16 cm, Weight: 1.72 kg

Object history note

This casket was acquired by the Webb collection from the Cathedral at Veroli, south east of Rome, in 1861.

Historical significance: This most familiar of Byzantine caskets is the finest of a group of Byzantine ivory and bone boxes in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries and known as 'Rosette caskets' because of the border decoration. No other Byzantintine work offers such a wealth of difficult, time-consuming undercutting except a number of technically and stylistically related ivory icons. Formal parallels can be found in monuments of the Late Antique rather than of classical dates. The literary sources that have been proposed for the programme of the casket come from the the fifth-century poet Nonnos of Panopolis.

Historical context note

The excellence of the carving suggests that it must have originally have belonged to a person of high standing possibly at the court of the Emperor Constantine VIII (976-1028).

Descriptive line

Casket, ivory and bone, the 'Veroli Casket', with mythological scenes, Byzantine (Constantinople), second half of 10th century

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

Williamson, Paul, ed. European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996, p. 37
Beckwith, John. The Veroli Casket. London: HMSO, 1962, 28p., 16 p. of plates: ill. (Museum Monographs No. 18)
Connor, CL. The color of ivory. Polychromy on Byzantine ivories.Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998, pp. 18-19, fig. 6
See appendix A, entry 41, for Connor's results of her microscopic pigment analysis of this object.
Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1865. 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. 31
Beckwith, John. The Art of Constantinople: an Introduction to Byzantine Art 330-1453. Lodnon: Phaidon, 1961, p. 76
Simon, Erika. Nonnos und das Elfenbeinkästchen aus Veroli. Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. 1964, LXXIX. P. 279
Williamson, Paul. The Medieval Treasury: the Art of the Middle Ages in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1986, pp. 88-89
Wentzel, Hans. Das byzantinische Erbe der ottonischen Kaiser : Hypothesen über den Brautschatz der Theophano.Aachener Kunstblätter. 1972, XLIII. P. 52.
Belting, Hans. Problemi Vecchi e Nuovi Sull'arte della Cosidetta "Renaissance Macedone" a Bisanzio. XXIX Corso di Cultura Sull'arte Ravennate e Bizantina. Ravenna, 1982, pp. 31-57
Cutler, Anthony. Oh Byzantine Boxes. The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery. 1984-1985, 42-43, pp. 32-47
Cutler, Anthony. The Hand of the Master: Craftmanship, Ivory, and Society in Byzantium(9th-11th centuries). Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 56
Cutler, Anthony. Un triptyque byzantin en ivoire : la Nativité du Louvre ; etude comparée avec le coffret de Veroli, du Victoria and Albert Museum de Londres. Revue du Louvre. 1988, no. 1, pp. 21-28
Speck, Paul. Die Rosettenkästchen. Byzantinische Zeitschrift. 86/87, 1993/1994, pp. 79-85
Bober, Phyllis Pray and Rubinstein, Ruth. Renaissance Artists and Antique Sculpture: a Handbook of Sources. Oxford, 1986, p. 136
Cutler, Anthony. Mistaken Antiquity: Through on Some Recent Commentary on the Rosetta Caskets. In: Sevcenko, Ihor and Hutter, Irmgard. eds. Aetos: Studies in Honour of Cyril Mango. Stuttgart, Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1998, pp. 46-54
Hanson, John. Erotic Imagery on Byzantine Ivory Caskets. In: James, Liz. ed. Desire and Denial in Byzantium: Papers from the Thirty-First Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, University of Sussex, Brignthon, March 1997. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999, pp. 171-184
Hanson, John. The Stuttgart Casket and the Permeability of the Byzantine Artistic Tradition. Gesta. 1998, XXXVII, pp. 13-25
Cutler, Anthony. Nineteenth-century Versions of the Veroli Casket. In: Entwistle, Christopher, ed. Through a Glass Brightly: Studies in Byzantine and Medieval Art and Archaeology. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2003, pp. 199-209
Trusted, Marjorie, ed. The Making of Sculpture. The Materials and Techniques of European Sculpture. London: 2007, p. 118, plate 212
Cormack, Robin and Vassilaki, Maria (eds.). Byzantinum 330-1453. Royal Acacdemy of Arts, London 2008, cat. no. 66, p. 397, illustr. p. 124
Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 76-83, cat. no. 15
Cutler, Anthony, The Hand of the Master: Craftsmanship, Ivory and Society in Byzantium (9th-11th centuries), Princeton, 1994, p. 56

Exhibition History

Byzantinum 330-1453 (Royal Academy of Arts 25/10/2008-22/03/2009)
Masterpiece of Byzantine Art (London) (01/10/1958-09/11/1958)
The Glory of Byzantium (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 03/03/1997-06/07/1997)
Masterpiece of Byzantine Art (Edinburgh) (23/08/1958-12/09/1958)
The Road to Byzantium: Luxury Arts of Antiquity (Somerset House 30/03/2006-06/09/2006)
Byzantium (Royal Academy of Arts 25/10/2008-22/03/2009)

Materials

Wood; Ivory; Bone

Techniques

Carving; Gilding

Subjects depicted

Figures; Venus; Hercules; Rosette; Procession; Chariot; Mars; Nymphs; Centaur; Europa; Panther; Iphigenia; Dionysus; Maenad; Aphrodite; Seahorse; Bellerophon; Ares

Categories

Containers; Sculpture; Myths & Legends

Production Type

Unique

Collection code

SCP

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Qr_O70463
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