Comb thumbnail 1
Comb thumbnail 2
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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

Comb

ca. 875 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This ceremonial comb, decorated with an elaborate carving showing Sagittarius shooting at Capricorn, was made in about 875. It belongs to a group of ivories that are thought to have been produced by craftsmen trained in an imperial workshop at Metz. The subject matter of the comb, with the zodiacal signs referencing the period of November to January, suggests that it may have been made on occasion of Charles the Bald's journey to Italy for his coronation as Emperor, which took place in St Peter's in Rome on Christmas Day. Combs such as this played an important 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, carved elephant ivory, inlaid with gold foil and coloured glass, possibly made in Metz, ca. 875
Physical Description
The double-sided comb consists of ten large teeth in the lower range and thirty-six narrow teeth in the upper. The semi-circular field on one side shows a carving of Sagittarius shooting at Capricorn. Both figures are contained within symmetrically arranged loops of stylized acanthus and a thin inner border of bead-and-reel ornament. The outer 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. They emanate from a flower of green and red glass inlay and terminate in two roundels of red glass and inlaid gold foil; three semicircular inlays at the junctions of the shoots are made of blue glass. Six engraved serpents wind themselves around the shoots. The border is identical in design to the other side.



The comb is in excellent condition. On the back, one of the red glass circles is missing from the border, and two further small petals of red glass from the roundel on the left of the main field. In several places the gold foil once covering the foliate shoots has gone and gold paint used to restore the loss. There is a small hole at the top at each side, perhaps to facilitate fixing a cord. On one exterior edge is written H.I. in ink, on the other a label with the Salting Bequest number 2061.
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
Recorded in a life-size watercolour drawing of about 1832 when in the treasury of Pavia cathedral (now Musei Civici, Pavia); collection of Frédéric Spitzer, Paris, by 1890; sold at the Spitzer sale, Paris (24 April 1893, no. 44, pl. III); collection of Martin Heckscher, Vienna; Heckscher sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 4-6 May 1898, lot 263, ill.; collection of George Salting, London; Salting Bequest, 1910.



The comb is the product of a workshop which produced a casket in Quedlinburg and a second casket, now fragmentary, once in Bamberg: three sides of the latter are now in Munich and a fourth, short side was in Berlin before being burnt in 1945. The figures of Sagittarius and Capricorn appear in very 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. Once thought to be of tenth-century origin, the date of all three objects has been clarified since the publication of the engraved and inlaid Hercules plques on the Cathedra Petri in the Vatican, produced for Charles the Bald in about 870-75, which share the goldfoil inlay technique and the incised decorative vocabulary. It is likely that this group of ivories therefore was produced in an imperial workshop, probably trained in Metz, but perhaps peripatetic, especially as other objects of Metz origin also have similar decorative patterns in the borders and demonstrate common stylistic features.



It is likely that the choice of subject matter of the comb is an indicator of its original use and owner. The comb has very plausibly be linked with Charles the Bald's journey to Italy in 875-76, and it has been suggested that the zodiacal signs of Sagittarius and Capricorn here refer to their temporal position, marking the period from the end of November to the middle of January. It was precisely that time in 875 that Charles the Bald was in Italy for his coronation as Emperor, being crowned in St Peter's in Rome on Christmas Day. Charles visited Pavia before and after his coronation and it is possible, therefore, that the comb was made specifically for his coronation, was taken to Italy at the time and remained in Pavia after the ceremony.



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.
Subjects depicted
Summary
This ceremonial comb, decorated with an elaborate carving showing Sagittarius shooting at Capricorn, was made in about 875. It belongs to a group of ivories that are thought to have been produced by craftsmen trained in an imperial workshop at Metz. The subject matter of the comb, with the zodiacal signs referencing the period of November to January, suggests that it may have been made on occasion of Charles the Bald's journey to Italy for his coronation as Emperor, which took place in St Peter's in Rome on Christmas Day. Combs such as this played an important role in the coronation ceremonies of kings and emperors from the early Middle Ages through to the modern era.
Bibliographic References
  • '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
  • Goldschmidt, Adolph. Die Elfenbeinskulpturen aus der Zeit der karolingischen und sächsischen Kaiser 8.-11. Jahrhundert, 2 vols. Berlin, Cassirer, 1914/18, vol. 1, cat. no. 63, pl. XXVI
  • Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part I. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1927, p. 66, pl. XLVI
  • Weitzmann, Kurt. 'Eine Fuldaer Elfenbeingruppe'. In Das siebente Jahrzehnt. Festschrift zum 70. Geburtstag von Adolph Goldschmidt. Berlin, Würfel Verlag, 1935, pp. 14-18, p. 16
  • Elbern, Victor Heinrich. 'Ein ottonischer Elfenbeinkamm aus Pavia'. In Zeitschrift des deutschen Vereins für Kunstwissenschaft 23, 1969, pp. 1-7
  • Mütherich, Florentine. 'Der Elfenbeinschmuck des Thrones'. In La cattedra lignea di S. Pietro in Vaticano (= Accademia Romana di Archeologica 10), ed. Michele Maccarone. Vatican City, Tipogr. Poliglotta Vaticana, 1971, pp. 253-73, pp. 270-71
  • Weitzmann, Kurt. 'The Heracles Plaques of St Peter's Cathedra'. Art Bulletin 55, 1973, pp. 1-37, p. 22
  • Gaborit-Chopin, Danielle. Ivoires du Moyen Age. Fribourg,Office du livre, 1978, p. 76
  • Williamson, Paul (ed.). The Medieval Treasury: The Art of the Middle Ages in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1986, pp. 72-73
  • Gaborit-Chopin, Danielle. Avori Medievali. Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 1988, pp. 41-42
  • Gaborit-Chopin, Danielle. Flabellum di Tournus. Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 1988, pp. 154, 200, fig. 35
  • Gaborit-Chopin, Danielle. 'Le Flabellum de Tournus: son origine et sa place dans l'art carolingien'. In Saint-Philibert de Tournus. Histoire, archéologie, art (Actes du Colloque du Centre International d'Etudes Romanes, Tournus, 15-19 juin 1994). Tournus, Centre international d'études romanes, 1995, pp. 585-612, p. 605, fig. 25
  • Peter, Michael. 'Das karolingische Elfenbeinkästchen im Schatz der Quedlinburger Stiftskirche'. In Zeitschrift des deutschen Vereins für Kunstwissenschaft 52/53, 1998/99, pp. 53-92, pp. 85, 90-92
  • Gaborit-Chopin, Danielle. Ivoires Médiévaux, V-XV siècle. Paris, 2003, pp. 156-57, cat. no. 41a
  • Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 76-179, cat. no. 42
  • Puhle, Matthias and Köster, Gabriele (eds). Otto der Große und das Römische Reich. Kaisertum von der Antike zum Mittelalter. Exhibition Catalogue, Magdeburg, Kulturhistorisches Museum. Regensburg, Schnell & Steiner, 2012, pp. 495-96, cat. no. IV.47 (Michael Peter)
  • Cordez, Philippe. 'Golgotha im Kopf. Karl der Kahle und die karolingischen Elfeinbeinkämme'. In Objects beyond the Senses. Studies in Honor of Herbert L. Kessler, ed. Philippe Cordez and Ivan Foletti with the collaboration of Karolina Foletti, Convivium 8.1 (2021), pp. 16-131, here pp. 112-14
Collection
Accession Number
A.544-1910

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record createdMarch 5, 2004
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