- Museum number
Comb; elephant ivory; losses at one end. Of rectangular form, with one row of wide teeth, one row of narrow teeth. A suspension loop at one end held by an animal head. The central section comprising three openwork carved panels, separated by frames carved with lion masks, interlace and geometric patterns. The central panel carved with inhabited foliage with a helmeted warrior in battle with opponent. The two flanking panels with scrolling interlaced foliage. Inscribed on one side.[...]VD.VVLT.D[...]DEVS.IHC.XPS
- Production date
- 1100 (circa)
Length: 220 millimetres
Width: 130 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Text taken from Blurton 1997:
'A number of richly carved ivory combs survive from the early Middle Ages, used to tidy the hair of celebrants before the solemn performance of the Liturgy and during certain anointing ceremonies. Here the inscription, whatever its full original meaning, clearly indicates a Christian message. Often described as of walrus ivory, the dimensions rule this out, so that the comb stands as a rare example of Romanesque elephant ivory carving during a period when the African and Indian ivory trade had almost totally dried up in Northern Europe (it was only to re-emerge in the mid-thirteenth century after a break of some 600 years). The decoration of the comb is in a long European tradition of the inhabited scroll: a soldier with pointed helmet and kite-shaped shield, the lower part of his body developing into part of the vegetation in which he is tangled, attacks a man, also caught up in the coiled foliage. The top and bottom panels, the latter broken, are purely vegetal in decoration. Stylistically, the figures and foliage compare closely with certain Anglo-Norman manuscript initials of the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, as do the bold animal masks and geometric ornament. Such initials in manuscripts often illustrate the spiritual combat referred to in the text which they accompany, and it could be that some such general spiritual allusion was also intended here.'
Text taken from Zarnecki et al, 1984, cat. no. 184, see bibliography.
'Highly decorated double-sided combs are known to have been used ceremonially during Mass at the ceremony of anointing bishops.
The comb has a suspension loop at one end decorated by three panels of pierced ornament, half of the third being broken away. An early break into two pieces has been mended. The decorative panels are separated by frames carved with lion masks and simple irrigular interlace. The inscription along one side is fragmentary and has not been satisfactorily read. The central panel has been decorated with a half-figure of a helmeted warrior with shield issuing from the scroll, his unarmed opponent grasping his shield and lance.
The ornamental vocabulary can in general be paralleled by Canterbury initials of the end of the 11th century from both Christ Church and St Augustine's. The curious and very unusal vase-like decoration flanked by two leaves can be found in a late-11th-century manuscript from the borders of Normandy and Flanders: Gregory the Great's 'Moralia in Job in Arras' (Bibl. mun., M 17, f. 64v). The warrior's helmet with a nasal and kite-shaped shield can be compared to the 'Temple Pyx' and the Bayeux Tapestry and was introduced to Britain by the Normans.'
Beckwith, 1972, no. 47
- On display (G40/dc4)
- Exhibition history
1998 9 Feb-3 May, India, Mumbai, Sir Caswasjee Jahangir Hall, The Enduring Image
1997 13 Oct-1998 5 Jan, India, New Delhi, National Museum, The Enduring Image
1988 Mar 21-Oct 30, Cardiff, National Museum of Wales, 'Gerald of Wales-the Crusading Priest'
1984 5 Apr-8 Jul, London, Hayward Gallery, English Romanesque Art 1066-1200
1974 8 May-7 Jul, London, V&A, Ivory Carving in Early Modern England 700-1200, cat.31
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number