Mirror cases were primarily destined for the aristocracy, and their subject matter reflects the activities and interests of their owners. Here, a lady and gentleman hunt with falcons, accompanied by attendants. Medieval literature frequently drew a parallel between falconry and courtly love, and the playful imagery of this ivory may be read as a metaphorical hunt for love.
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Geography:Made in possibly Paris, France
Dimensions:Overall: 4 3/8 x 4 1/8 x 7/16 in. (11.1 x 10.4 x 1.1 cm) diameter: 4 in. (10.1 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of George Blumenthal, 1941
The central panel of this circular mirror case depicts a group of young aristocrats enjoying a day of falconing on horseback. A lady at the center holds a bird of prey in her left hand. She locks gazes with a young man in an acorn hat who also holds a bird. To the right of this couple, a young lady swings a falcon lure fashioned out of a pair of pigeon wings affixed to a leather cord. Her bird of prey dives at the lure from above, claws extended for the kill. To the left of these three figures, a male companion blows on a horn. A retriever runs alongside them. The trees that surround the figures and the stony, uneven ground line suggest that the scene takes place in a rural hunting preserve. Grotesque faces inhabit the eight cusps surrounding this scene of rural sport, and four equidistant lions prowl beyond them, lending a square silhouette to the otherwise circular mirror case.
The mirror case is in good overall condition, with minor breaks, cracks, and discoloration. The lion on the lower right is missing its tail, while the lion on the upper right is heavily abraded. A large brown stain can be seen in the lower part of the case. A series of fine cracks radiates from the lower edge, one of which almost extends to the center. Another, smaller crack is visible to the right of the horn blowing figure. A small hole, now plugged with ivory, can be seen in the upper center of the medallion. This hole is a relic of a time when this mirror was affixed to the wall of an art collector, perhaps during the nineteenth century. On the reverse or interior side, a raised rim surrounds a circular, recessed field that once held a domed mirror of silvered glass. The mirror is now lost, and the empty space now displays stickers and numbers applied by previous collectors. A pair of pins, now damaged, are carved into the raised rim. These form one half of a bayonet mount that allowed this mirror case to lock into a matching piece, forming a complete, jar-like case for the now-lost mirror.
The imagery on this luxurious mirror case calls attention to the aristocratic milieu for which this ivory mirror case was made and the interconnected ethos of the hunt, pursuit of earthly pleasure, and ideologies of courtly love that this privileged class pursued. Falconry, like sport hunting with dogs and horses, was coded in fourteenth-century France as an unproblematic source of joy for a class of hereditary nobles that considered themselves to be natural predators. The French aristocracy considered falconry such an enjoyable pastime that when Chrétien de Troyes (ca. 1130–1191) described a town’s yearly beauty pageant in his Erec and Enide, he evoked the celebratory atmosphere by describing the crowds of people as playing with various birds of prey. The winner of the pageant even received a hawk as a prize. Falconry was recognized as an aristocratic sport in part because of the great expense involved. Depending upon their species, birds of prey could themselves be expensive, and aristocrats took it upon themselves to build viviers or artificial lakes on their estates to support herons, the preferred hunting quarry.
While both men and women regularly hunted for larger prey like deer and boar, books on hunting like Henri de Ferrières’ Le Livre de Roy Modus suggested that falconry, which required little physical exertion from the human participants, was particularly appropriate for women of high birth. The Jugement de Chiens et d’Oisiaus, also by Henri de Ferrières, depicts falconing parties as opportunities for the sexes to mingle and flirt, heightening the association with earthly pleasure and love. The mingling of privileged past times with erotic implications made scenes of falconry an attractive focus for ivory carvers in fourteenth-century France, and such imagery was frequently included on hygienic articles marketed toward the aristocracy.
William H. Forsyth, "The Noblest of Sports: Falconry in the Middle Ages," Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series 2 (May, 1944), pp. 253-259.
Jacqueline Stuhmiller, "The Hunt in Romance and the Hunt as Romance," PhD thesis, Cornell, 2005.
Paul Williamson and Glyn Davies, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, Part 2 (Victoria and Albert Museum Publishing, 2014), pp. 562-605.
Catalogue Entry by Scott Miller, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial and Research Collections Specialist, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, 2020–2022
[ Frédéric Spitzer (Austrian), Paris (sold 1903)]; his posthumous sale, Chevallier and Mannheim, Paris (April 17–June 16, 1893, no. 104); [ Jules Mannheim, Paris (from 1893, for Hainauer (?))]; Oscar Hainauer (German), Berlin (until d. 1894); by descent to his widow, Julie Hainauer, Berlin (1894–1906); [ Duveen Brothers, London, Paris and New York (in 1906)]; George and Florence Blumenthal, Paris and New York (by 1926-1941)
Kunstgeschichtliche Gesellschaft. "Ausstellung von Kunstwerken des Mittelalters und der Renaissance aus Berliner Privatbesitz," Mary 20–July 3 1898.
Detroit Institute of Arts. "Seventh Loan Exhibition: French Gothic Art," November 17–December 6, 1928.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Arts of the Middle Ages: A Loan Exhibition," February 17–March 24, 1940.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "The Middle Ages: Treasures from The Cloisters and The Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 18, 1970–March 29, 1970.
Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago. "The Middle Ages: Treasures from The Cloisters and The Metropolitan Museum of Art," May 16, 1970–July 5, 1970.
New York. The Cloisters Museum & Gardens. "The Secular Spirit: Life and Art at the End of the Middle Ages," March 28–June 15, 1975.
Detroit Institute of Arts. "Images in Ivory: Precious Objects of the Gothic Age," March 9–May 11, 1997.
Walters Art Museum. "Images in Ivory: Precious Objects of the Gothic Age," June 22–August 31, 1997.
La Collection Spitzer: Antiquité, Moyen-Age, Renaissance. Vol. I. Mâcon: Imprimerie Protat Frères, 1890–1891. Ivoire 69, p. 47.
Spitzer, Frédéric, ed. La Collection Spitzer: Antiquité -- Moyen-Age -- Renaissance. Vol. 1. Paris: Maison Quantin, 1890–1893. Ivoire 69, p. 49, pl. XIX.
Catalogue des objets d'art et de haute curiosité: antiques, du moyen-âge & de la renaissance: composant l'importante et précieuse Collection Spitzer. Vol. 1. Paris: Chevallier and Mannheim, April 17–June 16, 1893. no. 104, p. 20, pl. IV.
Bode, Wilhelm von. Die Sammlung Oscar Hainauer. Berlin, 1897. no. 131, pp. 81, 83, ill.
Bode, Wilhelm von, ed. Ausstellung von Kunstwerken des Mittelalters und der Renaissance aus Berliner Privatbesitz veranstaltet von der Kunstgeschichtlichen Gesellschaft. Berlin: G. Grote, 1899. pl. XIV, no. 2.
Bode, Wilhelm von. The Collection of Oscar Hainauer. Reprint (with English trans.) ed. London: Chiswick Press, 1906. no. 131, pp. 81, 83, ill.
Koechlin, Raymond. Les Ivoires Gothiques Français: Volume I, Text. Paris: Editions Auguste Picard, 1924. pp. 384 n. 4, 385, nn. 1, 6.
Koechlin, Raymond. Les Ivoires Gothiques Français: Volume II, Catalogue. Paris: Editions Auguste Picard, 1924. no. 1032, p. 378.
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.
Seventh Loan Exhibition: French Gothic Art of the Thirteenth to Fifteenth Century. Detroit: The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1928. no. 65, ill.
Arts of the Middle Ages: A Loan Exhibition. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1940. no. 139, p. 45, pl. LIII.
Ostoia, Vera K. The Middle Ages: Treasures from the Cloisters and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1969. no. 74, pp. 164–165, 258.
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. 104, p. 93.
Levin, William R., ed. Images of Love and Death in Late Medieval and Renaissance Art. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Museum of Art, 1975. no. 69, p. 109, pl. V.
Shepard, Mary B. Europe in the Middle Ages, edited by Charles T. Little, and Timothy B. Husband. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. p. 115, pl. 108.
Barnet, Peter, ed. Images In Ivory: Precious Objects of the Gothic Age. Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 1997. no. 60, pp. 235–36.
Sears, Elizabeth. "Ivory and Ivory Workers in Medieval Paris." In Images In Ivory: Precious Objects of the Gothic Age, edited by Peter Barnet. Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 1997. no. 60, p. 24.
Carns, Paula Mae. "Cutting a Fine Figure: Costume on French Gothic Ivories." Medieval Clothing and Textiles 5 (2009). pp. 64 n. 25, 76 n. 67, 90.
"Als ic can": 10 years of masterpieces from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance: a selection from my current collection. Antwerp: Bernard Descheemaeker, 2010. p. 14, fig. 5b.
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. pp. 90–91.
Ciseri, Ilaria, ed. Gli avori del Museo nazionale del Bargello. Milan: Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 2018. p. 299.
Descheemaeker Bernard. Artes Minores. Miniature Masterpieces in Ivory, Enamel and Wood (1200-1700). Catalogue, Vol. 18. Antwerp: Bernard Descheemaeker Works of Art, 2018. pp. 6, 20 n. 20, 22––23, ill. p. 25.
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