The afterlives of elephants
December 17, 2010 3:09 AM   Subscribe

"Among medieval artistic media it was the microchip": the historian Alexander Murray on ivory carving. The Gothic Ivories Project, a new website launched this week by the Courtauld Institute in London, aims to build a database of every surviving ivory sculpture made in Europe between 1200 and 1530. The 400 objects currently on the site, ranging from combs to chesspieces, include some images of astonishing beauty and intricacy.
posted by verstegan (10 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks. That's some seriously beautiful and intricate carving. And microchips indeed - there's clearly a bucketload of information in some of them.

But I'm lost when it comes to interpreting it. Why are those calves chewing on baby Jesus?
posted by Ahab at 4:12 AM on December 17, 2010

This is wonderful, thanks. Of all medieval ivory carving my favourites are undoubtedly mirror backs. Beautiful, delicate objects and testament to how the most ordinary items were ornamented.
posted by fire&wings at 4:21 AM on December 17, 2010

May these lovely objects also be revered as monuments to a generation of elephants, sacrificed for their creation, and to the carvers who devoted so much time to the creation of this useless beauty.
posted by Faze at 4:23 AM on December 17, 2010

Should imagine they're walrus ivory, but don't let that stop you lad.
posted by Abiezer at 5:04 AM on December 17, 2010

Fair dos, maybe I should have read the text as well as looking at the pictures. Bit of both.
posted by Abiezer at 5:08 AM on December 17, 2010

Medieval elephant holocaust - nevar forget
posted by fire&wings at 5:13 AM on December 17, 2010

Tangental datapoint: Jared Diamond asserts in Collapse that a contributing factor to the failure of Norse colonization of Greenland was the price drop in walrus and narwhal ivory after the crusades opened trade routes from Europe to sources of the superior elephant ivory that had been blocked for centuries by Arab expansion.

I am sure it is redundant to point out on the Internet that not everyone agrees.
posted by Herodios at 6:30 AM on December 17, 2010

useless beauty

I too sincerely wish this was some kind of super-durable wood, and that countless sensitive and intelligent creatures hadn't suffered to supply this ivory. That said, even if any given ivory doodad isn't a comb or a reliquary, can't a sublime frisson be possessed of utility?
posted by everichon at 9:10 AM on December 17, 2010

This is the kind of thing I come here to find. Thank you, you've made my day.
posted by immlass at 10:16 AM on December 17, 2010

Wow; thanks for posting this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:15 PM on December 17, 2010

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