Diameter: 9.700 cm
Room 40: Medieval Europe
Ivory mirror back with hawking scene
Medieval, about AD
From Paris, France
Ivory mirror cases were constructed in a way similar to the modern compact. A polished metal mirror was inserted between two, carved, ivory covers. Very rarely do both of the carved surfaces survive.
Such mirrors were manufactured for the courtly, aristocratic or mercantile classes and were decorated with scenes appropriate to that society. They portray people wearing fashionable clothes and doing things which are the privilege of their class. Here a couple, out hawking in the forest, are shown seated elegantly on their horses. A valet with a spear follows behind.
Representations of falconry occur very frequently in medieval art and literature. The participation of women in the sport meant that an amorous subtext could be easily inserted into the narrative. Consequently, falconry was developed as an expression of courtly love within the iconography of medieval romance.
The composition is framed by four, long-eared dragons. These creatures regularly appear on mirror cases of this period. Occasionally other grotesques or lions are used to perform the same decorative function.
O.M. Dalton, Catalogue of the ivory carving (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1909)
J. Robinson, Masterpieces: Medieval Art (London, British Museum Press, 2008)
R. Koechlin, Les ivoires Gothiques Français, vol. 2 (Paris, A. Picard, 1924)
P. Barnet (ed.), Images in ivory: precious obje (Detroit Institute of Arts, 1997)