Casket carved with scenes from a Medieval Romance

Medieval, AD 1180-1200
Probably from Cologne, Germany

The Romance of Tristram and Isolde

This carved bone casket features one of the earliest known medieval representations of the Romance of Tristram and Isolde, a story first known from an Anglo-Norman version of around AD 1185. Gottfried von Strassburg (1170?-1215) wrote a German version around AD 1210.

Tristram embodied the chivalrous and knightly ideal: he was a hunter, a musician, a skilled horseman and a master of languages. He was also quick-witted and an ardent lover.

The scene depicted on the lid of this casket shows Tristram and Isolde together in bed, being given the love potion by Brangwain, Isolde's handmaiden. The circumstances of this event vary from version to version, but the tragedy of Tristram and Isolde revolves around the mistaken consumption of the magic potion which draws them into an adulterous union and on the path towards destruction.

The other scenes decorating the casket are images of love and war, and not necessarily directly associated with the Romance.

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Carved bone casket with Romance scenes

  • View of lid

    View of lid


More information


J. Robinson, Masterpieces: Medieval Art (London, British Museum Press, 2008)

T. Richard Blurton (ed.), The enduring image: treasures, exh. cat (British Council, 1997)


Length: 14.300 cm
Width: 9.500 cm
Height: 9.300 cm

Museum number

M&ME 1947,7-6,1


Gift of the Art Fund


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