Casket with Scenes from Romances

Date: ca. 1310–30

Geography: Made in Paris, France

Culture: French

Medium: Elephant ivory

Dimensions: Overall: 4 5/16 x 9 15/16 x 6 1/4 in. (10.9 x 25.3 x 15.9 cm)
Top: 5 7/8 x 9 7/8 x 5/16 in. (15 x 25.1 x 0.8 cm)

Classification: Ivories

Credit Line: Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917; The Cloisters Collection, 1988

Accession Number: 17.190.173a, b; 1988.16

Description

The decoration shows scenes from medieval romance and classical legend; and was probably owned by a lady in fourteenth-century France. In the panel on the far left, Aristotle, one of the greatest philosophers of the ancient Greek world, sits opposite his pupil, the young prince Alexander the Great. In the next scene, Alexander watches from the wall while below, Aristotle appears on all fours carrying Alexander's mistress Phyllis on his back. According to the story, Phyllis used this means to humiliate Aristotle, who turned it into a lesson for Alexander: if a woman could overcome so wise and prudent an old man, how much more should a young man fear her wits.

The two other scenes on this face of the box belong to an ancient tale, the Romance of Pyramis and Thisbe, recounted by Ovid. Thisbe, who has arranged to meet her lover in a garden, runs away in terror when a lion appears. The first scene here shows her hiding in a tree while the lion tears her mantle. In the second scene, Pyramis, who finds the mantle and thinks that Thisbe is dead, throws himself on his sword. Thisbe, arriving too late, joins him in suicide.

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