Comb

ca. 875 (made)
Comb thumbnail 1
Comb thumbnail 2
+1
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This ceremonial comb was made in the Court School of Charles the Bald, in about 875.
It is likely that the comb, along with other ivories, were produced in an imperial workshop, probably trained in Metz but perhaps peripatetic, especially as other objects on Metz origin also have similar decorative patterns in the borders and demonstrate common stylistic features.
Liturgical combs were used to part the hair of the priest before celebrating Mass. This combing symbolically ordered his mind, as well as reducing the risk of falling hair contaminating the wine. The image on the comb represents Sagittarius shooting at Capricorn. Carolingian scholars were particularly interested in astrology. Combs played a major role in the coronation ceremonies of kings and emperors from the early middle Ages through to the modern era.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Carved elephant ivory, inlaid with gold foil and coloured glass
Brief Description
Comb, ivory, for liturgical and ceremonial use, depicting Sagittarius shooting at Capricorn, Court School of Charles the Bald, possibly made in Metz, ca. 875
Physical Description
Rectangular ivory comb. The bottom half has ten largish teeth, the top thirty six finer teeth. A semi-circular area in the centre of the comb has been carved and decorated with gold and coloured glass. One side bears an image of Saggitarius firing his bow at Capricorn in sunken relief. The other side bears a symmetrical pattern of incised snakes wound around stems. The outer main border consists of five-dot patterns inlaid with gold foil divided by alternating green and red glass circular inlays; below above the large teeth, is a row of triangles inlaid with gold foil. On the other side the semi-circular central field is made up of foliate shoots, inlaid with gold foil, emanating from a flower of green and red glass inlay and terminating in two roundels of red glass and inlaid gold foil. Three semicircular inlays at the junctions of teh shoots are made of blue glass.
Dimensions
  • Height: 21.2cm
  • At top width: 10.6cm
  • Depth: 0.7cm
  • Weight: 0.36kg
  • At bottom width: 9.8cm
Style
Credit line
Salting Bequest
Object history
From the Salting bequest.

The comb is recorded in a life-size watercolour drawing of about 1832 when in the treasury of Pavia Cathedral. The comb is clearly a product of the workshop which produced a casket in Quedlinburg and a second casket, now fragmentary, once in Bamberg. The figures of Sagittarius and Capricorn appear in closely similar form in both caskets, and the distinctive engraved and spotted serpents on the back of the comb are identical to those on the caskets.
Historical context
Combs played a major role in the coronation ceremonies of kings and emperors from the early middle Ages through to the modern era.
Production
It is likely that these ivories were produced in an imperial workshop, probably trained in Metz but perhaps peripatetic, especially as other objects on Metz origin also have similar decorative patterns in the borders and demonstrate common stylistic features.
Subjects depicted
Summary
This ceremonial comb was made in the Court School of Charles the Bald, in about 875.

It is likely that the comb, along with other ivories, were produced in an imperial workshop, probably trained in Metz but perhaps peripatetic, especially as other objects on Metz origin also have similar decorative patterns in the borders and demonstrate common stylistic features.

Liturgical combs were used to part the hair of the priest before celebrating Mass. This combing symbolically ordered his mind, as well as reducing the risk of falling hair contaminating the wine. The image on the comb represents Sagittarius shooting at Capricorn. Carolingian scholars were particularly interested in astrology. Combs played a major role in the coronation ceremonies of kings and emperors from the early middle Ages through to the modern era.
Bibliographic References
  • Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part I. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1927, p. 66
  • Williamson, Paul (ed.), The Medieval Treasury: the art of the Middle Ages in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1986 (reprinted in Hing Kong, 1996), pp. 72-73
  • Gaborit-Chopin, Danielle. Ivoires Médiévaux, V-XV siècle. Paris, 2003, no. 41a, p. 156-57
  • Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 76-179, cat.no. 42
  • '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. 88
Collection
Accession Number
A.544-1910

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record createdMarch 5, 2004
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