Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Leaf of a Writing Tablet

14th century
Made in Paris, French
Overall: 4 9/16 x 3 1/16 x 3/16 in. (11.7 x 7.8 x 0.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Ann Payne Blumenthal, 1938
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 307
It is probable that this leaf from a writing tablet, as with many extant writing tablets, was intended for letter writing. The decoration of the exterior of many of these ivory tablets, carved with scenes of courtship and chivalric romances, suggests that they were used by noble men and women for love poems or secret letters. Though this particular tablet is its fragmentary state, complete tablets are known. A similar, complete writing box was designed to hold not only the leaves, but also the stylus and a sunken receptacle for wax.
Writing tablets of wood, metal, or ivory, which had been in use from the days of ancient Egypt, were not medieval inventions. They were, however, important writing implements in a period when paper and parchment were both scarce and expensive. The value of the writing tablets lay in their reusable character. A brief message or account could be inscribed with a stylus on a thin layer of wax spread on the back of the tablet. After the recipient had read it, it could be erased so that an answer could be written in the wax and sent back to the owner. Though this medium did not lend itself to permanent records, it is probable that scribes used writing tablets for dictation of information which was to be transcribed later on parchment or paper; students, too, may have used writing tablets for practice exercises, and housewives, for inventories or accounts. These writing tablets were often equipped, as were many medieval objects, with leather cases to protect them both in storage and when carried on the person or during travel.
Edward Barry, Toulouse (until d. 1879); his posthumous sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris (June 2-4, 1880, no. 31); Charles Léon Cardon, Brussels (?); Lucien Cottreau, Paris (by 1900–1910); his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris (April 28-29, 1910, no. 34); Paul Casimir Garnier, Paris (1910–16); his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris (December 18-23, 1916, no. 49); George and Florence BlumenthalParis and New York (by 1926); Ann Payne Blumenthal, New York (until 1938)
Brooklyn Museum. "Chess: East and West, Past and Present," April–October 1968.

New York. The Cloisters Museum & Gardens. "The Secular Spirit: Life and Art at the End of the Middle Ages," March 28, 1975–June 15, 1975.

Katonah Museum of Art. "Love and Courtship in the Middle Ages," October 2, 2005–January 1, 2006.

New York. The Cloisters Museum & Gardens. "The Game of Kings: Medieval Ivory Chessmen from the Isle of Lewis," November 15, 2011–April 22, 2012.

New York. The Cloisters Museum & Gardens, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Treasures and Talismans: Rings from the Griffin Collection," May 1–October 18, 2015.

Catalogue des sculptures en ivoire, en bois, en marbre et en terre cuite... composant la collection de feu M. Edward Barry, de Toulouse. Paris: Hôtel Drouot, June 2-4, 1880. no. 31, p. 8.

Catalogue officiel illustré de l'exposition retrospective de l'art français des origines à 1800. Exposition universelle de 1900. Paris: Lemercier & Cie., 1900. no. 140, p. 265.

Migeon, Gaston. Exposition rétrospective de l'art français en 1900. Paris: Exposition universelle de 1900, 1900. p. 17.

Migeon, Gaston. "L'exposition rétrospective de l'art français: Les ivoires." La Revue de l'Art Ancien et Moderne 7, no. 4 (June 1900). p. 458, ill.

Hamel, Maurice. "La Collection Cottreau." Les Arts 9, no. 100 (April 1910). p. 5.

Collection Paul Garnier: Objets d'art & de haute curiosité du Moyen Age, de la Renaissance, des XVIIe, XVIIIe siècles et autres. Paris: Hôtel Drouot, December 18-23, 1916. no. 49, p. 13.

Koechlin, Raymond. Les Ivoires Gothiques Français: Volume II, Catalogue. Paris: Editions Auguste Picard, 1924. no. 1219, pp. 428–29.

Koechlin, Raymond. Les Ivoires Gothiques Français: Volume III, Plates. Paris: Editions Auguste Picard, 1924. no. 1219, pl. CXCIX.

Koechlin, Raymond. Les Ivoires Gothiques Français: Volume I, Text. Paris: Editions Auguste Picard, 1924.

Rubinstein-Bloch, Stella. Catalogue of the Collection of George and Florence Blumenthal, New York: Volume 3, Works of Art, Mediaeval and Renaissance. Paris: A. Lévy, 1926. pl. V.

Grodecki, Louis. Ivoires français. Arts, styles et techniques. Paris: Librairie Larousse, 1947. p. 118.

Husband, Timothy B., and Jane Hayward, ed. The Secular Spirit: Life and Art at the End of the Middle Ages. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975. no. 191, p. 172.

St. Clair, Archer, and Elizabeth Parker McLachlan, ed. The Carver's Art: Medieval Sculpture in Ivory, Bone, and Horn. New Brunswick, N.J.: Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, 1989. no. 66, p. 105.

Bruckner, Matilda Tomaryn. "Reconstructing Arthurian History: Lancelot and the Vulgate Cycle." In Memory and the Middle Ages, edited by Nancy Netzer, and Virginia Reinburg. Chestnut Hill, Mass.: Boston College Museum of Art, 1995. no. 52, p. 65, ill. p. 60.

Netzer, Nancy, and Virginia Reinburg, ed. Memory and the Middle Ages. Chestnut Hill, Mass.: Boston College Museum of Art, 1995. no. 52, p. 104.

Constable, Olivia Remie. "Chess and Courtly Culture in Medieval Castile: The 'Libro de ajedrez' of Alfonso X, el Sabio." Speculum 82, no. 2 (April 2007). p. 326 n. 76.

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