Compilatio in ivory: The composite casket in the Metropolitan Museum

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Eight complete French Gothic ivory caskets, known as the composite caskets, feature scenes from medieval courtly literature. Perhaps because of the high quality of their workmanship and the richness of their iconography, scholars have paid special attention to this group of ivories, probably made in Paris between 1330 and 1350 in a single workshop or cluster of related workshops. While some scholars believe that the boxes display a random selection of literary motifs, others argue that they feature unified programs, though they disagree about their meaning(s). Almost all who have studied the composite caskets assume that they faithfully reproduce in visual form verbal texts (stories that circulated in either the spoken or written word). This article takes a different approach to the caskets' imagery by considering the carvings on the example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art as visual stories. When examined in the context of late medieval literary practices, the box's incised tales reveal themselves unique interpretations of the stories they tell and, as such, offer contemporary responses to Old French literature. The casket's form and presentation of a unified theme associate the tales with the medieval tradition of compilatio, compilations of related stories. Taken together, the carved stories express a medieval survey of the subject of love.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-88
Number of pages20
JournalGESTA-International Center of Medieval Art
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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