Length: 14.300 cm
Width: 9.500 cm
Height: 9.300 cm
Gift of the Art Fund
Room 40: Medieval Europe
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.
J. Robinson, Masterpieces: Medieval Art (London, British Museum Press, 2008)
T. Richard Blurton (ed.), The enduring image: treasures, exh. cat (British Council, 1997)