Plaque with the Fountain of Youth


On view at The Met Cloisters in Gallery 14

The lower scene depicts three episodes in the progress of an amorous relationship. Beneath trefoil arches a woman recoils from the advances of her lover at the left; she has a more tentative response in the center; and on the right she embraces him as he chucks her chin. Above, under an identical arcade, is the fountain of youth, an image rarely represented in art during this period but known from romance literature. At the left, a bearded, old man with a walking stick enters the raised fountain's flowing waters, which are already inhabited by two smiling, youthful couples.

In addition to devotional statuettes, diptychs, and triptychs, which survive in large numbers, Parisian ivory carvers supplied their clients with combs, boxes, mirror cases, and other objects frequently decorated with secular themes. This plaque was undoubtedly made to be the cover of a set of wax writing tablets. The ivory leaves would have been held together by a cord passed through the two holes that can be seen at the top. Small traces of paint indicate that this ivory was probably originally partially polychromed.

Plaque with the Fountain of Youth, Elephant ivory, French

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