Exhibitions/ Art Object

Narwhal Tusk

Narwhal tusk
Overall: 8 ft. (96 in.)
Credit Line:
Gift of Elaine Rosenberg, in honor of Alexandre Rosenberg, 2015
Accession Number:
The long, spiraling tusk of the narwhal, a marine mammal sometimes called "the unicorn of the sea," can grow to more than ten feet in length. Because the narwhal lives in the Arctic, it was little known in the Middle Ages.

Narwhal tusks, believed to be those of unicorns, were safeguarded in churches from London to Cracow. Saint- Denis, outside Paris, possessed one said to have been given to Charlemagne in the ninth century by the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, while San Marco in Venice acquired one from Süleyman the Magnificent. Charles VI of France, his uncle Jean, duc de Berry, and Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, all listed unicorn horns among their prized possessions. When Lorenzo de Medici died in 1492, the "unicorn horn" in his collection was valued at 6,000 florins.