Art/ Collection/ Art Object

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

ca. 1170
Made in Cologne, Germany
Walrus ivory
Overall: 1/16 x 2 3/16 x 5/8 in. (0.2 x 5.6 x 1.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Stark and Michael Ward Gift, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Pfeiffer and Dodge Funds, 1996
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 304
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).
#3120. Gamepiece with Episode from the Life of Apollonius of Tyre
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Anton Prinz von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen ; Baron Robert von Hirsch, Frankfurt and Basel (until 1977); [his estate sale, Sotheby's, London (British)(June 22, 1978, lot 267)]; Michael Ward, New York (sold 1996)
Hefner-Alteneck, Jakob Heinrich von. Kunstkammer seiner Koeniglichen Hoheit des Fürsten Karl Anton von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. Munich: Bruckmann, 1866. pp. 27–28, pl. 38.

Lehner, F. A. Verzeichniss der Schnitzwerke: Furstlich Hohenzollern'sches Museum zu Sigmaringen. Sigmaringen, 1871. no. 294, p. 77.

Volbach, W. F. Mittelalterliche Elfenbeinarbeiten. Berlin: E. Wasmuth, 1922. p. 8, pl. 45a.

Goldschmidt, Adolph. Die Elfenbeinskulpturen aus der romanischen Zeit, XI.-XIII. Jahrhundert. Vol. 3. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1923. no. 231, pp. 10, 48, pl. LVI.

Sprinz, Heiner. Die Bildwerke der Fürstlich Hohenzollernschen Sammlung. Stuttgart: Fürstliches Hohenzollern'sches Museum, 1925. no. 5, pl. 2.

Giesen, Josef. "Kölner Brettsteine." Jahrbuch des Kölnischen Geschichtsvereins 31 (December 1957). pp. 74-77, fig. 1, pl. IX.

Mann, Vivian B. "Romanesque Ivory Tablemen." PhD diss., New York University, 1977. no. 206, pp. 342–43.

The Robert von Hirsch Collection: Volume 2, Works of Art. London: Sotheby's, June 22, 1978. no. 267, p. 92.

Kortekaas, G. A. A. Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri: prolegomena, text edition of the two principal Latin recensions, bibliography, indices and appendices. Mediaevalia Groningana, Vol. fasc. 3. Groningen: Bouma's Boekhuis, 1984. frontispiece.

Kluge-Pinsker, Antje. Schach und Trictrac: Zeugnisse mittelalterlicher Spielfreude in salischer Zeit. Sigmaringen: J. Thorbecke, 1991. p. 213.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Recent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1996-1997." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 55, no. 2 (Fall 1997). p. 20.

Wixom, William D., ed. Mirror of the Medieval World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999. no. 84, p. 71.

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