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Attack on the Castle of Love

  • Object:

    Mirror back

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    second quarter fourteenth century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Museum number:

    9-1872

  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 111, The Gilbert Bayes Gallery, case 8

This is a mirror back made in France, Paris in the second quarter of the fourteenth century. The mirror back is carved in ivory and representing the attack on the Castle of Love. The Castle of Love is an allegorical representation of the heart of a lady, to be conquered only after a trial of determination, courage and strength, and the image was thus particularly appropriate for the decoration of the accoutrements of beauty and grooming, such as ivory mirror cases and jewel or marriage caskets.
It was one of the most popular images of l'amour courtois in the first half of the fourteenth century.

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

Carved ivory mirror back representing the attack on the Castle of Love. A three-tier tower-like castle is in the centre, with portcullis partly open, before which five mounted and armoured knights, divided into two groups, confront one another for the attentions of the ladies above. The four maidens hurl roses down at the knights, while two trumpeters at the sides blow fanfares while perched on the branch of a tree. From the battlements at the top of the castle the winged God of Love shoots his arrows at the combatants and has already pierced with an arrow the right eye of one of the knights below, who has lifted his helmet to look upwards towards the ladies. On the rim are four lions carved in the round.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)

Date

second quarter fourteenth century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory

Dimensions

Width: 12.9 cm

Object history note

In the Préaux collection in Paris, and is described in the Préaux sale catalogue (Paris, 9-11 January 1850, lot 147, bought Rarent). Then collection of Prince Soltykoff, Paris, until 1861; Soltykoff sale (Soltykoff 1861, lot 355); collection of Henry Farrer, London; Farrer sale, Christie's London, 13 June 1866, lot 328; on loan to the Museum from 1867 and purchased from John Webb, London, in 1872, for £110.

Descriptive line

Mirror back, ivory, the Attack on the Castle of Love, French (Paris), second quarter of the fourteenth century

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. 48
List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington, Acquired During the Year 1872, Arranged According to the Dates of Acquisition. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., p. 1
Cf. Ross, D.J.A. Allegory and Romance on a Medieval French Marriage Casket. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 11, 1948, pp. 112-142, pl. 31a
Trusted, Majorie. ed. The Making of Sculpture: the Materials and Techniques of European Sculpture. London: V&A Publications, 2007, p. 119, pl. 216
p. 146
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
p. 299
Westwood, J O. A descriptive catalogue of the Fictile Ivories in the South Kensington Museum. With an Account of the Continental Collections of Classical and Mediaeval Ivories. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1876
I, pp. 406, 408, II, cat. no. 1092
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
p. 438
Gaborit-Chopin, Danielle. Ivoires Médiévaux, V-XV siècle. Paris, 2003
part II, pp. 590-593
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014
p. 494
Koechlin, R., 'Les Ivoires Gothiques', In: Michel, A., ed. Histoire de l'Art depuis les premiers temps chrétiens jusqu'à nos jours, II/1, Paris, 1906
p. 299
Westwood, J O. A descriptive catalogue of the Fictile Ivories in the South Kensington Museum. With an Account of the Continental Collections of Classical and Mediaeval Ivories. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1876
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. 590-593, cat. no. 203

Production Note

Previously considered to be German from Cologne.

Materials

Ivory

Techniques

Carving

Subjects depicted

Portcullises; Noblewomen; Love; Knights; Swords; Battlements; Castles; Noblemen; Armour; Lions; Trumpets; Horses; Lances

Categories

Sculpture; Accessories

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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