This is one of about twenty known Medieval saddles decorated with bone plaques. The saddles vary somewhat in decoration, but certain motifs are common throughout. For instance, Saint George, standing over the defeated dragon, appears with elegant couples on most of the saddles. Used in parade, they were probably more ceremonial than utilitarian.
The bone plaques used to create the saddle, probably from the pelvic bones of large animals such as cows, are attached to the core with bone pins and glue. The underside is lined with hide and birch bark.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Top of the canter with pairs of lovers
Underside of the canter with lovers holding a crst, heraldic eagle, and human-headed beasts
Underside of the canter, right lobe with heraldic eagle
Detail, left tip of the saddle horn with a man blowing a horned instrument
Left flank of the saddle horn with Saint George and the dragon, lovers, and vessel bearer
Detail, left side of saddle
Detail, left flank with a pair of lovers and monstrous scene
Detail, right tip of the saddle horn with a man holding his hat
Right flank of the saddle horn with lovers, a drummer, and two men with hats
Detail, right side of saddle
Detail, right flank of the saddle with a human-headed beast, male courtier, and an initial
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
Romantic and erotic imagery adorned not only the pages of late medieval manuscripts and the vessels of a lady’s private dressing table; these themes were equally suited to the public self-fashioning of European nobles. Ornately carved and once brightly painted on worked animal bone, this saddle with courtly scenes was designed to turn heads at parades and on other special occasions. Because the rider probably stood in attached stirrups rather than sitting down (Grancsay 1941), the saddle’s complex iconography would have been reasonably visible when in use.
Divided into a series of vignettes, this saddle is dominated by courtly couples. Fashionably-dressed women model the desirable silhouettes of their day, with high waistlines, rounded bellies, and full sleeves peeping out from long openings in the arms of their garments. The men are equally stylish, with dramatic sleeves extending down to the hem of their short, belted skirts. On the top of the canter (the raised back of the saddle seat), one woman enjoys her partners love song, while the other couple exchange love tokens: a luxury container offered for the lady’s heart.
Similar scenes of courtship and gift exchange appear elsewhere on the saddle, while other couples enjoy unmediated physical contact. Squeezed under the curving left flank of the saddle horn, two lovers gaze into each other’s eyes with hands clasped and bodies held close. Going one step further, the couple on the right flank of the saddle horn stand cheek to cheek, their painted eyes touching as the woman clasps her lover to her chest with both hands. In either pairing, the hands of the female partner are especially active, indicating not only consent, but control.
Elicit touch and unmediated sight are just two of the carnal senses evoked by this saddle. Under the left flank of the saddle horn, a man holds up a vessel. Tucked between larger figures, troubadours and instrument-bearing grotesques evoke the auditory pleasures of the court, while floral and arboreal motifs conjure the alluring sights, smells, and tastes of a pleasure garden.
This saddle stages touch not only as skin-to-skin contact, but also as penetration. On the right tip of the saddle’s pommel, a man pokes his hand into a conical hat as a cheeky reference to the amorous intentions of the embracing couple below. Three other vignettes show male protagonists stabbing monstrous adversaries. As oblique references to the physicality of sex, wounding touch also symbolizes the social domination and submission that resulted from medieval coupling as well as, perhaps, an encoded warning about the pain of love lost. Even the shape of the saddle is suggestive. The accentuated curvature of the pommel and the double-lobed cantle (a common feature of Eastern European saddles) emphasize the saddle’s phallic form. For those viewers bold enough to inspect the saddle’s hidden surfaces, grotesques under the pommel and at the center back of the cantle offer comic relief while also warning against the bestial side of desire.
The morals of late medieval Christianity are primarily embodied on this saddle by Saint George, shown as a knight spearing a dragon on the right side of the pommel. According to hagiographic precedent, the dragon’s defeat secured the safety of a captive maiden, an ideal of feminine purity threatened by the corruption of evil. As the patron saint of knights and saddlers, the armored saint therefore models the expectation that noblemen turn their strength to the triumph of Christian virtues.
Saint George and the dragon and scenes of courtly love dominate the roughly twenty bone saddles that survive from late medieval Europe. Four of these saddles are now at The Met (see also acc. nos. 36.149.11; 04.3.249; 04.3.250). Mostly hailing from central Europe, this particular saddle is associated with the court of Wenceslaus IV. Seen from the back, the right lobe of the cantle includes a heraldic eagle with outstretched wings, at center, and a crowned king, at right. This eagle was used in the heraldry of the Germanic-Roman kingdom under Wenceslaus around 1400 (The Met 2005). Two painted shields, one held by the grotesque under the tip of the pommel and one by an amorous pair on the left back of the cantle, are unfortunately abraded and therefore provide no additional identifying information. Two carved banderoles form the initials "v" and "e," located next to an unpartnered male (at back, with arms folded) and female (at center, holding a round mirror) on the right side of the saddle. Similar initials appear in the two scenes on the top of the cantle. Although scholars have proposed various readings of these illusive identifiers, the saddle’s owner remains unknown.
Attached to a limewood core with bone pins and glue, the carved panels probably derive from the pelvic bones of cows or other large animals. The underside of the saddle is lined with hide and birch bark. Although these fragile materials are ill suited for the battlefield or daily use, bone’s off-white color and receptiveness to carving served as the ideal ground for eye-catching carvings and paintings. Viewers today should remember that the saddle was originally brightly colored with blue, green, and red paint. The saddle was also just one part of a larger ensemble of a horse’s parade armor. On either side of the saddle just below the seat, checkerboard patterns surround two sets of slits, one wide and one short, that indicate the position of the saddle girth and stirrup straps. Attached beneath the saddle with four metal nails, a metal buckle extends between the sides of the skirt. A saddle cloth would have been attached through the circular holes along the saddle’s lower edges.
Barbara Drake Boehm and Jiri Fajt, eds. Prague: The Crown of Bohemia, 1347–1437 (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005), no. 90, pp. 236-237.
Stephen V. Grancsay, "A Mediaeval Sculptured Saddle," The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 36, no. 3 (March 1941): pp. 73–76.
Catalogue Entry by Nicole D. Pulichene, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial and Research Collections Specialist, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, 2020–2022
Prince Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, Milan (by 1872-until 1928); [ Julius Böhler Kunsthandlung, Munich (1928)]; [ Duveen Brothers, London, Paris and New York (1928)]; Clarence H. Mackay (American), Roslyn NY (from 1928;Mackay Estate until 1940)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Loan Exhibition of European Arms and Armor," August 3–September 27, 1931.
Prague, Czech Republic. Picture Gallery, Prague Castle. "Karel IV., císař boží milosti: kultura a umění za vlády posledních lucemburků 1347-1437," February 16, 2006–May 21, 2006.
Musée National d'Histoire et d'Art Luxembourg. "Sigismundus Rex Et Imperator. Art and Culture under the Last Ruler of the Luxembourg Dynasty, 1387-1437," July 13, 2006–October 15, 2006.
Prague Castle, Prague Castle. "Czech and Roman King Wenceslas IV: Gothic Art in the Beautiful Style around 1400," August 16, 2019–November 3, 2019.
Du Sommerard, Alexandre. Les arts au moyen âge, en ce qui concerne principalement le Palais romain de Paris, l'Hôtel de Cluny. Vol. 5. Paris: Hôtel de Cluny, 1838–46. pp. 225, 427.
Du Sommerard, Alexandre. Les arts au moyen âge, en ce qui concerne principalement le Palais romain de Paris, l'Hôtel de Cluny. Album. Paris: Hôtel de Cluny, 1838–46. 4e Série, pl. XXV.
Catalogo delle opere d'arte antica esposte nel Palazzo di Brera. 2nd ed. Milan: Pinacoteca di Brera, 1872. no. 241, p. 34.
Courajod, Louis. "Exposition Rétrospective de Milan (Art Industriel 1874)." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 11, no. 4 (April 1875). p. 378, ill.
Molinier, Emile. "Notes sur quelques selles de fabrication italienne." L'Art: revue hebdomadaire illustrée 34 (1883). p. 29, ill. p. 31.
"Selle en ivoire sculpté." L'Art Ornemental: revue hebdomadaire illustrée 4, no. 163 (March 13, 1886). p. 21, ill.
Schlosser, Julius von. "Elfenbeinsättel des ausgehenden mittelalters." Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses 15 (1894). no. 16, p. 272, fig. 9.
Schlosser, Julius von. "Die Werkstatt der Embriachi in Venedig." Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses 20 (1899). pp. 256, 259.
Nagy, Géza. "Hadtörténeti ereklyék a Magyar Nemzeti Múzeumban." Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 11 (1910). p. 229.
Grancsay, Stephen V., ed. Loan Exhibition of European Arms and Armor. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1931. no. 113, p. 34.
Grancsay, Stephen V. "An Early Sculptured Saddle." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 32, no. 4 (April 1937). p. 94.
Grancsay, Stephen V. "A Mediaeval Sculptured Saddle." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 36, no. 3 (March 1941). pp. 73–76.
Rorimer, James J., and William Holmes Forsyth. "The Medieval Galleries." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 12, no. 6 (February 1954). p. 144.
Seligman, Germain. Merchants of Art: 1880–1960, Eighty Years of Professional Collecting. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1961. p. 217.
Hayward, John F. "A Fifteenth-Century Carved Bone Saddle." Auction 2, no. 7 (March 1969). p. 23.
Genthon, István. "Monumenti artistici ungheresi all’estero." Acta Historiae Artium 16 (1970). no. 21, p. 6.
Nickel, Helmut. "Arms and Armor." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 32, no. 4 (1973-1974). pp. 96–97.
Eisler, János. "Zu den Fragen der Beinsättel des Ungarischen Nationalmuseums I." Folia Archaeologica 28 (1977). p. 200 n. 20.
Eisler, János. "Zu den Fragen der Beinsättel des Ungarischen Nationalmuseums II." Folia Archaeologica 30 (1979). pp. 206–7, 232, 234–35 n. 53, 239, fig. 24.
Grancsay, Stephen V., and Stuart W. Pyhrr. Arms & Armor: Essays by Stephen V. Grancsay from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1920–1964. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986. pp. 267–270, fig. 87.1.
Norman, A. V. B. European Arms and Armour Supplement. Wallace Collection Catalogues. London: Wallace Collection, 1986. p. 108.
Boccia, Lionello G. L'armeria del Museo civico medievale di Bologna. Busto Arsizio: Bramante Editrice, 1991. p. 112.
Ventrone, Paola, ed. Le tems revient, 'l tempo si rinuova: feste e spettacoli nella Firenze di Lorenzo il Magnifico. Milan: Silvana Editoriale, 1992. p. 173.
Randall Jr., Richard H. The Golden Age of Ivory: Gothic Carvings in North American Collections. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1993. p. 130.
Pyhrr, Stuart W. "Clarence H. Mackay as an Armour Collector." In The Nineteenth Park Lane Arms Fair. London: Christie's, 2002. p. 28, fig. 13.
Boehm, Barbara Drake, and Jiri Fajt, ed. Prague: The Crown of Bohemia, 1347–1437. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005. no. 90, pp. 236–37.
Fajt, Jiri, and Barbara Drake Boehm, ed. Karel IV., Císař Boží Milosti: Kultura a Umění za Vlády Posledních Lucemburků 1347–1437 (Charles IV, Emperor by the Grace of God: Culture and Art in the Reign of the Last of the Luxembourgs 1347–1437). Prague: Prague Castle Administration, 2006. no. 10.6, pp. 81–82.
Fajt, Jiri, and Barbara Drake Boehm, ed. Karl IV., Kaiser von Gottes Gnaden: Kunst und Repräsentation des Hauses Luxemburg 1310-1437. Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2006. no. 165, pp. 481, 497–99.
Takács, Imre, ed. Sigismundus rex et imperator: Kunst und Kultur zur Zeit Sigismunds von Luxemburg, 1387–1437. Luxembourg: Musée National d'Histoire et d'Art Luxembourg, 2006. no. 4.66, pp. 357–59.
Takács, Imre, ed. Sigismundus rex et imperator: art et culture au temps de Sigismond de Luxembourg, 1387–1437. Luxembourg: Musée National d'Histoire et d'Art Luxembourg, 2006. no. 4.66, pp. 357–59.
Lyon, Christopher. Couples in Art: Artworks from The Metropolitan Museum of Art selected by Colin Eisler in collaboration with Caroline Kelly. Munich, London, New York: Prestel, 2011. p. 69.
Squizzato, Alessandra Dr., and Francesca Tasso. Gli avori Trivulzio: arte, studio e collezionismo antiquario a Milano fra XVIII e XX secolo. Padua: Il Poligrafo, 2017. no. 23, pp. 220–222, figs. 22, 67–68.
Ciseri, Ilaria, ed. Gli avori del Museo nazionale del Bargello. Milan: Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 2018. p. 326.
Somogyvári, Virág. "The "Unicorn Group": The Possenti Saddle and its Nineteenth-century Copies." In Engraving, Plaster Cast, Photograph: Chapters from the History of Artwork Reproduction. Budapest: ELKH Eötvös Loránd Research Network, 2021. p. 55, n. 39.
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.
The Museum's collection of medieval and Byzantine art is among the most comprehensive in the world, encompassing the art of the Mediterranean and Europe from the fall of Rome to the beginning of the Renaissance.