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Lovers in a garden

  • Object:

    Comb

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1320 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Elephant ivory

  • Credit Line:

    Salting Bequest

  • Museum number:

    A.560-1910

  • Gallery location:

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

This is an ivory comb made in Paris in about 1320, depicting courting couples.

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 comb has since the Antiquity been a fundamental tool for personal grooming, used both by men and women. In the Gothic period ivory was often employed for the production of deluxe decorated combs. The Gothic comb is always carved on both faces and consists of two registers of teeth, one fine, the other broader, above and below the narrative strips.
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. Considering the original ubiquity of such combs and in comparison with ivory mirror cases, a surprisingly small number survive from the fourteenth century.

Physical description

Ivory comb with scene of lovers in a garden. The comb has three scenes of courting on each face, separated by small trees, carved in recessed bands. On one face the lovers on the left are seated on a bench with cross-hatched base, the man with a hawk, the lady holding a small dog; in the centre the lady crowns her kneeling lover; and on the right the couple embrace. On the other face, on the left the man fondles the lady under the chin and she holds a squirrel in her left hand; in the centre the kneeling lover picks a rose to be added to the crown held by the lady (the couronne tressée); and on the right the couple hold a crown between them.

The comb is in perfect condition; not a single tooth is broken and the double incised lines made by the carver to mark out the surface between the teeth and the central narrative section are still visible at the sides. On one side are large teeth, at the other finer teeth.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)

Date

ca. 1320 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Elephant ivory

Dimensions

Width: 14.5 cm, Height: 11.4 cm left side, Depth: 1.5 cm, Weight: 0.16 kg, Height: 11.2 cm right side

Object history note

Salting Collection, London until 1910; Salting Bequest to Victoria & Albert Museum, 1910 (no. 1456).

Historical significance: Considering the original ubiquity of such combs and in comparison with ivory mirror cases, a surprisingly small number survive from the fourteenth century. Koechlin catalogued just four examples (plus a fragment in the British Museum), and of these only one – that in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence – has a related subject matter of paired lovers engaged in courting (Koechlin 1924, 2: nos. 1148, 3: pl CXCI). In details however, the latter is somewhat different, with the four scenes on each side taking place under an arcade. In iconography and style the London comb is closest to a mirror case in the Musée du Louvre that shows four sets of courting lovers, the individual scenes divided by spindly trees (Koechlin 1924, 2: no. 1007, 3: pl CLXXVII): both were probably made at the beginning of the second quarter of the fourteenth century.

Historical context note

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. Just such a set is detailed in the French royal accounts of 1316: “1 pinge et 1 mirouer, une gravouère et 1 fourrel de cuir, achaté de Jehan le Scelleur” (1 comb and 1 mirror, a gravoir and 1 leather case, purchased from Jehan le Scelleur; Koechlin 1924, 1:531). Typical examples of these leather cases are preserved in the Deutsches Ledermuseum, Offenbach, and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon (see Randall 1985, 179, fig. 35; Krueger 1990, figs. 15-17). The sale of ivory combs by specialist pigniers, who also made combs in other materials, is well documented, and Koechlin published a good number of the names of such craftsmen, mentioned in the accounts of the French aristocracy (Koechlin 1924, 1:423-25, 531-39); these accounts and other references in inventories do not, however, give any details as to the decoration of the combs mentioned therein.

Secular Ivory Carving:

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)

. . . 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

Comb, ivory, Lovers in a garden, France (Paris), ca. 1320

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

Williamson, P. Images in Ivory: Precious Objects of the Gothic Age (Detroit, Mich. : Detroit Institute of Arts ; Princeton, N.J. : in association with Princeton University Press, c1997.) pp. 222-223
Longhurst, Margaret H., Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory,(London: pub. under the authority of the Board of Education), 1927-1929, 2:50, pl. XLVIII
'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. 93
I, p. 426, II< cat. no. 1147, III, pl. CXCI
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
part II, pp. 610-611
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. 610-611, cat. no. 209

Materials

Ivory

Subjects depicted

Lovers; Hawk; Bench; Dog; Rose

Categories

Images Online; Accessories; Sculpture

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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