Ceremonial Staff thumbnail 1
Ceremonial Staff thumbnail 2
+15
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery

Ceremonial Staff

second quarter of the 12th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The decoration here has a combination of foliage and animals that is typically Romanesque. The lower part has curling vine scrolls inhabited by naked figures and birds, alternating with bands of grotesque beasts. Above are dragons and foliage. Pinholes for fastening strips of precious metal can be seen on the uncarved areas.
A close similarity between the decoration of the staff and that of a column to the right of the central portal at the west end of Lincoln cathedral has been pointed out by Fritz Saxl. This portal is to be dated by 1145, its columns strongly influenced by similar columns in St Denis.
Until 1958 it appeared that the present tusk was the only medieval example to have carved decoration, but in that year a further piece came to light which allowed a reassessment of the function of the V&A tusk. The two tusks were carved in the same workshop; they share the same dimensions, the decoration is technically identical. Both were embellished with gilt-copper strips - now removed - and have an uncarved area near the middle of the shaft, probably once covered with a metal band or knob, which served to facilitate handling. There is evidence that the tusks may have served as grand processional candlesticks, possibly even as a pair.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Narwhal tusk
Brief Description
Ceremonial staff, Narwhal horn, England, second quarter of the 12th century
Physical Description
The horn is carved on the lower portion with straight bands of foliate scrolls - two contain repeating naked human figures in identical poses, with their left arms raised to grasp the tails of the alternating beasts above them, also of identiacal form. and the othjer two, alternating with the first type, contain alternating quadrupeds and serpent-tailed dragons. On the upper part the bands of ornament follow the spiral twist of the horn and the designs show plain leaf-scrolls and scrolls with birds and animals among foliage. The horn was originally longer and has been broken and repaired in two places. The pin-holes on the plain surfaces between the band of ornament suggest that these spaces were originally covered with metal strips, possibly of gilded copper. There is a plain area of about 5cm in height that probably was covered with a metal band. At the bottom of the dhatf the carved surfaces have been shaved away, indicating that the tusk was either once mounted on a metal foot or encased in a metal sheath for attaching to a seperately amde lower section.
Dimensions
  • Length: 117cm
  • At bottom diameter: 4.5cm
  • Weight: 1.86kg
Measured for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries
Style
Credit line
Purchased with funds from the Capt. H. B. Murray Bequest
Object history
Purchased from T.C. Cutt, London, Camden Town, £100.



Historical significance: A close similarity between the decoration of the staff and that of a column to the right of the central portal at the west end of Lincoln cathedral has been pointed out by Fritz Saxl. This portal is to be dated by 1145, its columns strongly influenced by similar columns in St Denis.

Until 1958 it appeared that the present tusk was the only medieval example to have carved decoration, but in that year a further piece came to light which allowed a reassessment of the function of the V&A tusk. The two tusks were carved in the same workshop; they share the same dimensions, the decoration is technically identical. Both were embellished with gilt-copper strips - now removed - and have an uncarved area near the middle of the shaft, probably once covered with a metal band or knob, which served to facilitate handling. There is evidence that the tusks may have served as grand processional candlesticks, possibly even as a pair.
Historical context
Its use is uncertain. It may have formed the handle of a ceremonial staff or processional candlestick. Another staff of the same type is now in the Liverpool Museum.
Subjects depicted
Summary
The decoration here has a combination of foliage and animals that is typically Romanesque. The lower part has curling vine scrolls inhabited by naked figures and birds, alternating with bands of grotesque beasts. Above are dragons and foliage. Pinholes for fastening strips of precious metal can be seen on the uncarved areas.

A close similarity between the decoration of the staff and that of a column to the right of the central portal at the west end of Lincoln cathedral has been pointed out by Fritz Saxl. This portal is to be dated by 1145, its columns strongly influenced by similar columns in St Denis.

Until 1958 it appeared that the present tusk was the only medieval example to have carved decoration, but in that year a further piece came to light which allowed a reassessment of the function of the V&A tusk. The two tusks were carved in the same workshop; they share the same dimensions, the decoration is technically identical. Both were embellished with gilt-copper strips - now removed - and have an uncarved area near the middle of the shaft, probably once covered with a metal band or knob, which served to facilitate handling. There is evidence that the tusks may have served as grand processional candlesticks, possibly even as a pair.
Bibliographic References
  • J. Beckwith, Ivory Carvings in Early Medieval England, London, 1972, cat. no. 82
  • Swarzonski. Monuments of Romanesque Art
  • Zarnecki, G. Romanesque Lincoln: The Sculpture of the Cathedral. Lincoln, 1988, p.32 and p.100, note, 70
  • Saxl, F. English Sculptures of the Twelfth Century (ed. H. Swarzenski), London, 1954, p. 41, fig. 25 and p. 73, note 24
  • Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 382-7, cat.no. 96
  • Zarnecki, G. et al (eds.), English Romanesque Art 1066-1200, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984
  • Beckwith, John, Ivory Carvings in early medieval England, 700-1200, London, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1974
Collection
Accession Number
A.79-1936

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record createdMarch 10, 2004
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