Ivories

   Ivory was a popular and important medium in early medieval art; carved ivories served a variety of artistic purposes. Ivory was frequently used for liturgical objects and also for book covers and reliquaries. Ivory was also used for more secular objects, including small boxes and combs. Early medieval artists borrowed from classical models for their works and often created beautiful and high-quality pieces. The material for the ivories varied between England and the Continent. Continental artisans had access, even though restricted and limited in quantity, to elephant ivory from Africa, although they also used animal bones and teeth and whalebone. Anglo-Saxon artisans, however, had no access to elephant ivory, and their "ivories" are often made of whalebone or walrus tusk.
   Ivory was a popular material for artists in the Roman Empire, and elephant ivory could be obtained by artists with little difficulty. But after the fall of the empire in the west, this commodity became harder to come by until the ninth century, when the Carolingians expanded trade. Despite the scarcity of ivory, even under the Carolingians, the art form continued to be popular, and imperial models continued to influence artists. Ivories continued to appear throughout the post-Roman world and are found among the treasures of the Merovingians. Ivory carving was frequently used to produce religious items, and ivory carvers employed simple tools similar to those of the woodworker. The ivories were often polished or painted and were often placed with metalwork and jewels in the finished product.
   Under the Carolingians ivory carving flourished again and reflected the Carolingian interest in Roman imperial models. Carolingian ivory workers created small boxes and combs, but more frequently produced book covers, which borrowed from classical models or were patterned after contemporary manuscript illuminations. They were often used to adorn psalters, the Gospels, and other books of Scripture and therefore often depict scenes from the life of Christ, including his birth, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. One example from Metz that was commissioned by the bishop Drogo (d. 855), Charlemagne's son, depicts the Temptation of Christ along with a number of episcopal rites. The borders of the ivory covers are sometimes decorated with a geometric design or leaf pattern.
   
   Tenth-century ivory and metal book cover depicting Christ as Pantocrater (Elio Ciol/Corbis)
   Anglo-Saxon artists, although forced to find an alternate source of "ivory," produced high quality works made of whalebone and, particularly from the tenth century, morse teeth (walrus tusk). Some early examples of whalebone ivory carving include a writing tablet that was decorated with carved interlace design and carved panels of winged beasts, and eighth-century Northumbrian crosses, which have similar carved animals. There are also examples of small boxes or caskets of carved whalebone, but, as with all whalebone items, there are not very many of these items because of the limited durability of the whalebone. There are more numerous examples of Anglo-Saxon carvings in morse. Like the Carolingian artists, Anglo-Saxon ivory carvers often created book covers that included designs from the life of Jesus or other religious images.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Beckwith, John. Ivory Carvings in Early Medieval England. London: Harvey Miller, 1972.
 ♦ Hubert, Jean, Jean Porcher, and Wolfgang Fritz Volbach. The Carolingian Renaissance. New York: George Braziller, 1970.
 ♦ Lasko, Peter. The Kingdom of the Franks: North-West Europe before Charlemagne. New York: McGraw Hill, 1971.
 ♦ ---. Ars Sacra, 800-1200. 2d ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994.
 ♦ Neese, Lawrence. Justinian to Charlemagne: European Art, 565-787: An Annotated Bibliography. Boston: Hall, 1987.
 ♦ Randall, Richard H., Jr. Masterpieces of Ivory from the Walters Art Gallery. New York: Hudson Hills, 1985

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • ivories — [“aivriz] 1. n. the teeth. (See also china.) □ I gotta go brush my ivories. □ Look at those nice white ivories! 2. n. piano keys. (From when piano keys were made from real elephant ivory.) □ She can really bang those ivories …   Dictionary of American slang and colloquial expressions

  • Ivories — Ivory I vo*ry ([imac] v[ o]*r[y^]), n.; pl. {Ivories}. [OE. ivori, F. ivoire, fr. L. eboreus made of ivory, fr. ebur, eboris, ivory, cf. Skr. ibha elephant. Cf. {Eburnean}.] [1913 Webster] 1. The hard, white, opaque, fine grained substance… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • ivories — noun /ˈaɪvəriːz/ a) The keys of a piano. b) The teeth. See Also: tinkle the ivories, tickle the ivories …   Wiktionary

  • ivories —  1. Piano keys, tickle the ivories Play the piano.  2. Billiard balls.  3. Teeth, rinse one s ivories Drink (usu. alcoholic liquor) …   A concise dictionary of English slang

  • ivories — Synonyms and related words: alveolar ridge, bird cage, bones, bridgework, choir, claviature, console, crap game, crap shooting, craps, crooked dice, cubes, dental bridge, dentition, denture, dice, die, echo, eighty eight, false teeth, fingerboard …   Moby Thesaurus

  • ivories — (New American Roget s College Thesaurus) n. pl. [piano] keys; dice, bones, cubes. See music, amusement …   English dictionary for students

  • ivories — n. (Slang) teeth; dice; keys of a piano i·vo·ry || aɪvÉ™rɪ n. hard white substance which makes up the tusks of elephants and other animals; something made from ivory; elephant tusk; yellowish white color; tooth (Slang) adj. of or like ivory,… …   English contemporary dictionary

  • ivories — informal a person s teeth. → ivory …   English new terms dictionary

  • ivories — Noun. Teeth …   English slang and colloquialisms

  • ivories — n. piano keys …   English slang

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