Cover of a Writing Tablet


On view at The Met Cloisters in Gallery 14

Both sides of this ivory reveal scenes of courtship taking place under trefoil arches. On one side (not shown), a man holding a bird of prey- a symbol of his status- has received a coronet from a woman and reciprocates by crowning her, thus signifying her victory in winning his love. On the other side (below, left) the lovers kneel in adoration before the god of love, who throws darts to seal their devotion. Inspired by numerous contemporary love poems, these scenes are part of the stages of love as defined in courtly literature such as the influential Roman de la Rose (ca. 1230-75).

Intended to cover writing tablets, such plaques were among the deluxe products of Paris during the fourteenth century and were possibly made on the rue de la Tabletterie, a name indicating their special use. Poems or messages would have been written on smooth sheets of ivory that had recessed areas filled with wax for the text. Perfect economy of technique and purity of style are clearly evident in these amorous images. In their elegance of form and gesture the courtly couples seem also to convey a moral and spiritual life that appears both mannered and artificial but is infused with joie de vivre.

Cover of a Writing Tablet, Elephant ivory, French

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