Pyramus and Thisbe

Casket
ca. 1390-1410 (made)
Pyramus and Thisbe thumbnail 1
Pyramus and Thisbe thumbnail 2
+16
images
Not currently on display at the V&A

Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This marriage casket is made by the workshop of the Embriachi, North Italy in about 1390-1410. It depicts scenes from the story of Pyramus and Thisbe.

The story of Pyramus and Thisbe is frequently represented on such caskets. It is suggested that the story is a French romance of the fourteenth century which was borrowed from Ovid. The story was also introduced by Shakespeare in his 'Midsummer Night's Dream'.

The Embriachi workshop was a north Italian family of entrepreneurs and carvers. The precise location of the workshop is unknown, except that it originated in Florence and in ca. 1431 there was apparently a workshop in Venice, in the area of S Luca.
They employed local workers specialising in 'certosina' (inlay of stained woods, bone and horn), and the workshop produced items carved in bone (usually horse or ox) with wood and bone marquetry.
As well as altarpieces, the workshop also made caskets as bridal gifts to hold jewels or documents, and these were often decorated with scenes from mythology.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.
(Some alternative part names are also shown below)
  • Coffer
  • Casket
  • Casket Fragment
Materials and Techniques
Bone, horn and intarsia on a wood base.
Brief Description
Marriage casket, wood inlaid with marquetry of bone and horn, scenes from Pyramus and Thisbe, by the workshop of the Embriachi, North Italy (Florence or Venice), ca. 1390-1410
Physical Description
This coffer, or marriage casket in made of wood, inlaid with marquetry of bone and horn, and covered with bone plaques. The lid rises steeply to a finial or pinnacle, the top of which is plugged and which must once have had a metal attachment. It is decorated with a border of flying amorini against a background of leaves. The intarsia is formed of several friezes running in bands around the carcase and lid and is made with prefabricated strips. The narrative frieze is divided into six scenes depicting the story of Pyramus and Thisbe. At each corner are male figures carrying shields and clubs. Each scene comprises three plaques. Scene i shows THisbe with her mother and Pyramus with his father follwoing two men, one of whom wears a toga-like garment; the two children carry writing slates. Scene 2 depicts the two children walking arm in arm behind their tutors; in the third panel of this scene, Pyramusis taught by a tutor pointing to an open book. In scene 3, the lovers whisper through the crack in the wall; Scene 4 shows Pyramus setting out to meet Thisbewith his possessions in a scarf hanging from his sword, carried casually over his shoulder; ahead Thisbe runs from the lioness, which is pawing a bloody scaf near a well; he then falls on his sword, as the lioness walks off. Finally, in scene 6 Thisbe mourns over Pyramus's body, before falling on the sword; to the right, a satag watches the scene.
Dimensions
  • Height: 30.5cm
  • Width: 28cm
  • Of narrative plaques height: 9.1cm
Object history
In the collection of Jules Soulages, Paris and Toulouse (probably acquired by him in Italy in 1830-40: see Robinson 1856, p. iii); bought together with the rest of the Soulages Collection in 1856 by a subscription committee and then purchased by the Museum in 1859 (£15).
Historical context
The story of Pyramus and Thisbe is frequently represented on sucgh caskets. It is suggested that the story is a French romance of the fourteenth century which was borrowed from Ovid. The story was also introduced by Shakespeare in his 'Midsummer Night's Dream'.
Subjects depicted
Literary ReferencePyramus and Thisbe
Summary
This marriage casket is made by the workshop of the Embriachi, North Italy in about 1390-1410. It depicts scenes from the story of Pyramus and Thisbe.



The story of Pyramus and Thisbe is frequently represented on such caskets. It is suggested that the story is a French romance of the fourteenth century which was borrowed from Ovid. The story was also introduced by Shakespeare in his 'Midsummer Night's Dream'.



The Embriachi workshop was a north Italian family of entrepreneurs and carvers. The precise location of the workshop is unknown, except that it originated in Florence and in ca. 1431 there was apparently a workshop in Venice, in the area of S Luca.

They employed local workers specialising in 'certosina' (inlay of stained woods, bone and horn), and the workshop produced items carved in bone (usually horse or ox) with wood and bone marquetry.

As well as altarpieces, the workshop also made caskets as bridal gifts to hold jewels or documents, and these were often decorated with scenes from mythology.
Bibliographic References
  • Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1859. In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 31
  • Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part II. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1929, p. 65
  • Robinson, John Charles. Catalogue of the Soulages Collection. London: Chapman & Hall, 1856no. 304
  • Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872pp. lix and 25
  • Maskell, A., Ivories, London, 1905p. 232, pl. XLVII
  • Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014part II, pp. 818-821
  • 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. 818-821, cat. no. 268
Collection
Accession Number
5624:&2-1859

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record createdJune 24, 2009
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