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Attack on the Castle of Love

  • Object:

    Mirror back

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)
    Paris (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1330-1350 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Credit Line:

    Salting Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 111, The Gilbert Bayes Gallery, case DR8

This is an ivory mirrow back depicting the Attack on the Castle of Love. It was made in Paris in about 1330-1350.

During the 14th century specialist ivory craftsmen carved both secular and religious objects in great numbers. Although Paris was the main centre of production, other workshops emerged in Italy and Germany. Some of the craftsmen may have been trained in Paris as their work often combines French and local styles. 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.
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.

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.

Physical description

Mirror back of ivory depicting the Attack on the Castle of Love. Above the parapet of the castle are a woman and a man embracing, and two women apparently about to shower roses on combatants below. Below, in front of a towered gateway, are four knights in chain mail on horseback. The two central ones, wearing helmets, engage with swords; on the left a third wields a big club in both hands; on the right a fourth lifts his helmet. The two on the right bear shields charged with (a) four pales (for Aragon?) (b) six bezants, although this painting is almost certainly not original.
On the rim are four monsters (one broken away) giving the whole a rectangular form. There are slight traces of gilding.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)
Paris (possibly, made)


ca. 1330-1350 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory


Height: 11.8 cm, Width: 11.5 cm

Object history note

In the collection of George Salting, London, by v1900 (Paris 1900, cat. no. 156); Salting bequest, 1910 (no. 907).

Descriptive line

Mirror case, ivory, depicting the attack on the Castle of Love, French (Paris), ca. 1330-1350

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

'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
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part II. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1929, p. 48
I, pp. 406, 408, II, cat. no. 1083
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
part II, pp. 598-599
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. 598-599, cat. no. 205





Subjects depicted

Horses (animals); Body armour; Castles; Chivalry; Knights (landholders); Love; Warfare; Monsters; Women; Swords; Battlements


Sculpture; Accessories


Sculpture Collection

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