Length: 22.300 cm
Width: 13.000 cm
Room 40: Medieval Europe
Liturgical comb made of ivory
Medieval, late 11th century AD
Found in England or Wales
This highly decorated carved ivory comb was probably used in a ceremonial role during the celebration of Mass or during the consecration of a bishop.
It is carved on both sides, and the suspension loop at one end indicates that it may have been worn or hung on a ribbon or chain of some kind. It is carved with a fragmentary inscription, of unclear meaning, but certainly religious in nature. The significance of the figures carved into the central panel of the comb is not known. They represent two adversaries, one armed and helmeted (similar in appearance to warriors depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry) and the other unarmed and in a position of submission.
What makes the comb important? The quality and richness of the carving suggests that it was an object of some significance. In addition, it is made of elephant ivory, which places the comb in a unique position. During the twelfth century, ivory carvings in northern Europe were made of the ivory from the tusks of the walrus (previously known as 'morse' ivory). Elephant ivory was very rare indeed, and in fact so rare that no other piece of elephant ivory is known to survive from this period in Britain.
J. Robinson, Masterpieces: Medieval Art (London, British Museum Press, 2008)
T. Richard Blurton (ed.), The enduring image: treasures, exh. cat (British Council, 1997)
T. Holland, J. Holt and G. Zarnecki (eds.), English Romanesque art 1066-12 (London, Hayward Gallery, 1984)