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Game Piece with a Scene from the Life of Apollonius of Tyre

Date:
ca. 1170
Geography:
Made in Cologne, Germany
Culture:
German
Medium:
Walrus ivory
Dimensions:
Overall: 1/16 x 2 3/16 x 5/8 in. (0.2 x 5.6 x 1.6 cm)
Classification:
Ivories
Credit Line:
Purchase, Stark and Michael Ward Gift, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Pfeiffer and Dodge Funds, 1996
Accession Number:
1996.224
  • Description

    This piece, from the medieval game of tables (a precursor to backgammon), illustrates the Late Antique legend of Apollonius of Tyre, whose wife was miraculously resurrected after being buried at sea. Here two men lower her coffin while two others watch. The scene is conceived in spatial layers: coffin, figures lowering it, onlookers, and sail. The illusion of deep space is enhanced by almost three-dimensional carving, with some areas in the round, a rare feature in walrus-ivory reliefs. While the subject is unique in Romanesque art, the plastic style of figure carving and the fine detail have parallels in Cologne ivories of the second half of the twelfth century. The figures and acanthus border can be related to an ivory reliquary in Brussels and to a cupola reliquary in Berlin produced in Cologne between 1170 and 1190. The Brussels reliquary has nearly identical borders, indicating that a single workshop produced ecclesiastical and secular objects.

    Another gamepiece, depicting the Entombment of Christ (Burrell Collection, Glasgow), is so similar that it may be from the same set, one divided thematically between the life of Christ and typological parallels based on classical literature. Frequently, pieces would depict feats of strength, such as those of Hercules (from mythology) pitted against those of Samson (from the Old Testament).

  • Provenance

    Anton Prinz von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen ; Baron Robert von Hirsch (1883–1977), Frankfurt and Basel (until 1977); [his estate sale, Sotheby's, London(June 22, 1978, lot 267)]; Michael Ward, New York (sold 1996)

  • See also
    What
    Where
    When
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
    MetPublications
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