Fitzwilliam Museum. McClean Bequest.

Catalogue of the mediaeval ivories, enamels, jewellery, gems and miscellaneous objects bequeathed to the museum by Frank McClean online

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widest popularity and attained its highest technical perfection.
But although the best work is admirable alike in craftsmanship
and in feeling for the ideal, the importance of ivories to the history
of art was destined to decline with the growth of a great figure-
sculpture in stone at the close of the twelfth century. When
the sculptors of Chartres, Amiens and Rheims, of Strasburg, of
Westminster, Wells and Lincoln had re-established the prestige of
their art and left for the imitation of their successors work which
the great artists of Greece would not have failed to praise, the
narrower sphere open to the ivory carver no longer attracted the
highest talent. The yuiagiers tailleurs who worked in ivory
were content to follow the sculptors in stone, and follow them at

1 Repertorium fur Kunstwissenschaft, Vol. xxii, 1899, pp. 95 ff. and xxiv, 1901,
pp. 1 95 fT.

- /dhrhiich dcr koniglich preussischen Kttnstsainmlungen, XXI, 1900, pp. 230 ff.


a distance ; the}' were never pioneers and rarely masters of the
hii^hest genius. Exquisite though tlieir deh'cate reh'efs may be,
they often lack the interest attaching to the ruder but more varied
work of earh'er times, when there was no great sculpture to over-
shadow the minor art, and no fixed canon of style to compel a
monotony of treatment. Two specimens in the McClean Bequest,
illustrative of this period, are of great excellence, and one is of
really admirable quality (no, 39). Although in the Gothic period
ivory carvings were sometimes used in the construction of large
altar-pieces, the majorit}' of those which have a religious destination
were probably intended as aids to private devotion. It is not
necessary to discuss in the present place the particular uses,
religious or secular, for which carved ivories were adopted : the
reader who wishes to pursue tlie subject will find the information
accessible elsewhere ^ Attention may however be drawn to two
points of general interest. In the first place we may notice the
geographical distribution of ivory carving. The great centres of
production were continually changing with the growth and decay
of nations. Within the limits of the Christian era we find the
centre of gravity frequently displaced. At first Italy, and what
we have called the Syro-Egyptian artistic province, produced
almost all the diptychs, pyxes and book-covers of which the
Christian world had need, and it is clear that the Eastern area was
by far the most prolific. But the Arab conquests of the seventh
century and the establishment of the Carlovingian power modified
this position. In the East, Constantinople itself became the chief
home of ivory carving, though monastic artists living far from the
capital in Mount Athos or in Greece may have practised the art
upon a less extensive scale. In the West, the great monasteries
on the Rhine and Meuse, and in France, took up the tradition ;

1 In the general works upon ivory carvings, especially that by M. Emile Molinier,
already so often quoted ; the Catalogues by Prof. Westwood ( Textile Ivories) and
Mr W. Maskell (^Description of the h'ory Carvings in the South Kensington Museum,
1872), the British Museum Catalogue of Ivory Carvings of the Christian Era, 1909,
Introduction, and Mr A. Maskell's book {Ivories, in The Connoisseur's Library), &c.
For the Gothic period the reader should especially consult the chapter by M. Raymond
Koechlin in M. Andre Michel's Histoire de Fart, Vol. 11, pp. 4—59, and his previous
articles, to which references are there given. M. Koechlin is eng.iged upon a compre-
hensive work upon the ivories of the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries.


but with the tenth century, under the Saxon Emperors, Germany-
developed a national art, and for about two hundred years the
different German schools produced ivories in distinctive styles with
few pretensions to beauty, but often characterised by a massive
strength and vigour. In the twelfth century the art declined in
Germany ; the supremacy now passed to France, which maintained
it throughout what we call the Gothic period, providing models
and setting the standard for all the rest of Europe. The influence
of France at this time, especially in the late thirteenth and early
fourteenth centuries, was the consequence of her pre-eminence in
architecture and sculpture; such ivories as were produced in other
countries were for the most part inferior imitations of originals
made in Paris or the Northern French provinces. But the close of
the fourteenth century witnessed a general decadence : Flanders
and Northern France for a time produced work in which the
realistic treatment contrasted unfavourably with the ideal sim-
plicity of the earlier age ; but the great days of the age were
already over.

During the long period of German and French supremacy
England doubtless imported many foreign ivories ; but she had
ivory carvers of her own, and the rare examples of their work
which have survived are full of interest for the originality which
they evince. We have several ivories of the Anglo-Saxon period,
including the seal of Godwin \ the beautiful tau-cross from
Alcester in the British Museum^, and the curious panels repre-
senting the Virgin and Child in South Kensington and in the
Louvre^ A few ivories remarkable for a certain monumental
quality, reminiscent of a greater sculpture in stone, remain to show
of what the English artist was capable in the Gothic period : the
triptych and diptych made for Bishop Grandisson of Exeter'*, and

^ Proc. Soc. Antiq. London, 2nd series, viii, p. 468; Arckaeologia, i.vni, p. 412;
Victoria County Histories^ Bci-kskire, Vol. I.

'■' Archacologia, LVIII, pi. xxvii. For the Northumbrian casket of whale's bone,
dating from the early 8th century, see A. S. Napier, The Franks Casket, Oxford, 1900,
and the earlier books and articles there mentioned; also J. Strzygowski, Z>rfj orientalische
Italien in MonatsheflenfiirKunstzvissenschaft, Leipzig, 1908.

^ W. Maskell, Description of the ivories &c., plate opposite p. 59.

■• Lacroix and Sere, Le MoyeJi Age et la Renaissance ; A. Maskell, Ivories, pi. xxxi ;
E. Molinier, Catalogue des ivoires, 1896, no. 122, p. 252, and Ivoires, p. 199.


the diptych in Mr Salting's collection', exhibit an individuality of
style which distinguishes them from all the contemporary work of
France. Italy during the same period was comparatively indifferent
to sculpture in ivory. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries she
produced a few panels and caskets imitating Byzantine models ;
Giovanni Pisano carved the Madonna which is still at Pisa ; but
the energies of Italian craftsmen were expended in other directions.
The Venetians of the declining fourteenth century preferred bone
to ivory, and by combining it with marquetry produced work poor
as sculpture but of fine decorative effect-.

In oriental countries, carving in ivory found patrons down to
the fourteenth century. The work of the Moors in Spain has
already been noticed : ivory panels and boxes of great beauty were
made in Egypt under the Mamluk princes, and the former were
largely used to inlay carved wooden doors or the pulpits in

After the Renaissance, ivory carving no longer enjoyed the
prestige of earlier times, though the influence of classical models
encouraged a certain development along new lines. The earlier
period produced a little fine work-', the seventeenth century much
that was technically admirable, the artists being now for the most
part South Germans inspired by the monumental sculpture and
the paintings of Italian masters^ The eighteenth century saw the
art descend to the manufacture of snuff-rasps and bonbonnieres, a
degradation from which it has only recently shown some symptoms
of recovery.

The second point to which attention may be drawn is that
mediaeval ivories, like Greek sculpture^ were always coloured
either wholly or in part, and that the colour was enhanced by

^ Westwood, Fictile Ivories, p. 258 ; W. Maskell, Description <!v:c., p. xc.

- J. von Schlosser, lahrbtich der hinsthistorischcn Sainniluiigen dcs allcrhdchstcn
Kaiserhauses, xx, 1899, pp. 220 ff. ; Molinier, Ivoires, pp. 201 ff.

•* E.g., the panel with the Triumph of Fame in the Louvre {Gazette arcfUologiqne,
VI n, 1883, pi. xxxv).

^ For late ivories see C. Scherer, Elfenbeinplastik seit der Renaissance, in L. Sponsel's
Monographien dts Ktiitstgewcrbes, Leipzig.

* Probably Greek and other antique ivories were also tinted and gilded, though the
traces which remain are infinitesimal. See British Museum Excavations at Ephesns
(1908), pp. 171, 183, 186, 195.



gilding. To our present taste, the actual condition of most
surviving statuettes or reliefs, with their fine mellow tone, and
the visible charm of texture in their substance, is far more pleasing
than that in which they left the workshops. The few examples in
which the colour remains approximately in its original condition
appear for the most part to lose by the addition : the gilding and
the pigment conceal rather than enhance the beauty of the object;
and in saying this we really accuse the mediaeval artist of gilding
the lily and refining the rose. Yet where, as in the free sculpture
of Greece, the colour is only applied to parts of the surface, and
that with restraint, we are sometimes almost converted to the
ancient point of view. The groups of the Deposition from the
Cross and the Coronation of the Virgin in the Louvre^ seldom fail
to exercise their proper charm, and to raise an occasional doubt as
to the permanence and infallibility of modern judgment.


As enamels are a very considerable part of the McClean
Bequest, and are sufficiently representative to form the basis for a
historical study, an attempt will be made in the following pages to
provide an introductory account of the various kinds of enamelling
as they have been practised at diff'erent times and in different
countries. The important technical questions involved will be
barely touched upon, partly because a whole treatise would be
needed to do them justice ; partly because in recent years English
workers in enamel have published most useful books upon the
theory and practice of their art-.

1 E. Molinier, Catalogue &c., frontispiece; Ivoires, p. 185 and pi. xv ; Monuments
Piot, III, 1896, pi. xii.

^ H. H. Cunynghame, Etiropean enamels (The Connoisseui-'s Library) ; Alexander
Fisher, The art of enanidling upon metal: The Studio, 1906; Lewis F. Day, Enamel-
ling, 1907. In French the processes are described by A. Meyer, L'art tie r^mail de
Limoges, Paris, 1895. Among general works in which enamelling is historically treated
are: N. Kondakoff, Geschichte und Denkmdler des Byzantinischen Emails (also in a
French edition); E. Rupin, Vauvi-e de Limoges; O. von Falke and H. Frauberger,
Deutsche Schmelzurbeiten des Mittelalters ; E. Molinier, V Emailleric, Paris, 1891 ;
Histoire des arts appliques a rinJustrie, Vol. Ill, Orfh'rerie; Texier, Diciionnaire


The (in\;in of enamelling upon metal is one of the obscurest
subjects in the history of the industrial arts. The application of a
vitreous glaze to earthenware and stone had been practised in
Eg)'pt from the period of the iitli dynasty; but though the
Eg\'ptians were at the same time producing the inlaid gold orna-
ments to which we have already referred, there is nothing to show
that they substituted coloured enamel for cut stones until after the
time of Alexander. The systematic excavation of Egyptian tombs
has now been carried on for many years, and it grows more and
more unlikely that the existing evidence will be reversed. But the
meaning of that evidence is that the Egyptians, though they
appreciated contrasts of rich colour in their jewellery, and were
familiar with the art of applying glazes to earthenware, were not
the inventors of enamelling on metal. They did not adapt a
familiar ceramic process to the use of the goldsmith, although
at first sight it would seem that so easy a change must have
followed in the natural course of development. Until recently, this
failure of the Egyptian goldsmiths to take an apparently obvious
step, had remained a perplexing enigma ; and archaeologists
had almost resigned themselves to continued ignorance, when
Mr Edward Dillon made a suggestion which seems to afford a
solution of the problem ^ He drew attention to the fact that
Egyptian glass is a soda-lime glass, only fusing at a very high
temperature ; although safely applied as a glaze to the surface of
a pottery vessel, it would not serve to enamel metal, because the
metal would fuse first. To apply enamel to gold, silver or copper,
you require a glass in which there is a high proportion of lead ;
when lead is present in sufficient quantity the vitreous mass fuses
at a lower temperature than the metal base, and all difficulties are
at once removed. The absence of Egyptian enamels is thus
plausibly explained ; and experiments made by Sir A. H. Church

d'Orfhjrerie; J. J. Marquet de Vasselot in A. Michel's Histoire de Vart Sec, Vol. il,
pp. 938 flf. ; A. W. Franks, essay on Vitreous Art in J. B. Waring's Examples of art in
glass and enamel &c., and in the Catalogue of the Special Loan E.xhibiticn, South
Kensington, 1862 ; Labarte, Recherches sur la peinture en email and Histoire des arts
industriels &c. ; Laborde, A^otice des £maux...du Louvre, 1853; A. Darcel, A^otice des
Etnanx &c., 1891 ; Burlington Fine Arts Club, Exhibition of European Enamels, 1897,
introduction by J. Starkie Gardner.

' The Burlington Magazine, September, 1907, p. 373.

D- 3


on fragments of Egyptian glass selected from sites of widely
different dates, tend to confirm Mr Dillon's hypothesis'. But if
a lead glass is essential to the production of fine enamel, the
existence of the Greek and Mycenaean jewels now to be mentioned
compels us to ascribe its invention to a period certainly as early
as the sixth century before Christ and probably much more

Among the earliest certain examples of enamelling on a metal
base are the Greek and Etruscan earrings and other jewels of the
sixth to the third century B.C., which have been chiefly found in
Greece, Italv, and on the north shore of the Euxine^ Here we
find, together with a kind of filigree enamel contained by applied
gold wire, the more difficult form in which the enamel is applied
to small figures in the round. It is hard to imagine that a process
requiring so much skill can have been ma.stered without long
practice in the simpler methods in champleve and cell-work ; and
in view of the remote date now assigned to the oldest examples,
we must assume that enamelling was known in the Mediterranean
considerably earlier than the middle of the first millennium before
our era. The probability naturally brings to recollection certain

1 Sir A. H. Church tested a number of fragments of Egyptian glass from Gurob
and other sites dating from various periods from the i8th dynasty downwards. In a
heavy liquid of density 3*28 all floated, though some more lightly than others, this
showing that if lead was present at all it can only have been in very small quantities.
The heavier fragments were then tested with ammonium sulphide which would have
turned them black if they had contained lead. As they remained unblackened, the
inference is that they contained none. One fragment only, which in the mass was of a
blue colour but had a yellow border, contained, in this border only, barely identifiable
traces of lead and antimony. The results of these analyses are not yet published.

- For jewellery from Eretria &c. in the British Museum, see Caialogtie of Jewellery ,
Greek, Roman and Etruscan, by F. H. Marshall, nos. 1267 — 8, 1290, 1644 — 7, 165.3 — 4)
1947, 195 1. For the examples found in S. Russia see Kondakoff, Tolstoy and Reinach,
Aiitiquites de la Russie vieridionale, pp. 52 — 53, 60, 61, 63, 65 fif. Most of the Russian
examples are of the third century, but a crown from a tumulus at Great Bliznitza is stated
to belong to the fourth. In his account of the gold treasure found at Vettersfelde
Furtwangler claimed a 5th century date for the objects reproduced in the Compte
Rendu of the Imperial Russian Archaeological Commission, 1877, pi. iii, fig. 34- Other
examples of Greek enamel have been found at Melos. The art as practised by the
Greeks seems to have died out before the beginning of the Christian era (A. Riegl,
Spdtromische Kunstindustrie &c., p. 185). A remarkable enamelled gold brooch in
the Goluchow collection is worthy of notice (W. Frohner, Collections du Chateau de
Gohuhoav, 1897, pi. vii, fig. 37).


jewels of the Mycenaean period ornamented with a \ itrcous bhie
substance. The treasure of Aegina', now in the British Museum,
is not later than looo B.C. ; and were the blue glass upon the rings
which form part of it a true enamel, the centre of interest would
pass to the islands of the Aegean. We might then suppose that a
Mycenaean art was inherited by the Greeks, and transmitted by
them to the continent of Europe, possibly by way of the Euxine
colonics. The most recent examination of the Aegina treasure
leads to the conclusion that most of the inlay was fused in position,
not cut to shape and applied cold. It would be more satisfactory
if Mycenaean ornament of the kind could be analysed, but there is
presumptive evidence in favour of a Mycenaean origin.

Apart from the Greek and Etruscan enamels, the most ancient
certain examples which have been preserved are found along a
line running from the Caucasus to Northern France and Britain.
The bronze ornaments discovered in a cemetery at Koban in the
Caucasus were dated by R. Virchow as early as the ninth century
B.C.-, but some recent opinion inclines to a lower estimate, and
would assign them to a period in any case not earlier than the
fourth century. Unless we are to suppose that lead-glass was
known in the Caucasus at a far earlier period than in the more
civilised regions of the Graeco-Roman world, this appears to be
a necessary conclusion ; for we have seen that except possibly for
diminutive articles of jewellery, a lead-glass is essential to success-
ful enamelling upon metal. But if the high antiquity of the Koban
finds is discredited, they approximate in age to the red enamels of
the La Tene period, of which we have examples dating from the
third century B.C.* Whether the Celtic enamellers of Central and
Western Europe acquired their knowledge of a readily fusible glass
from the confines of Asia ; whether it came to them from the
South, perhaps from the Adriatic, after the introduction oi vitruni

' Described by Dr Arthur Evans in fournal of Hellenic Studies, xiii, pp. 224 flf.,
and again mentioned in Join iial oj the Aiithropologiail Institute of Great Britain and
Ireland^ N.S., HI, 1900, pp. 199 ff. Unfortunately no loose fragments of this blue glass
are available for analysis.

2 Das Grdberfeld von Koban, p. 138.

■'* E.g., from Flavigny in the Department of the Marne {Revue archeologique, 1877,
pt. ii, p. 44). For the later enamels of Mont Beuvray (Bihracte) see J. i\. BuUiot and
II. de Fontenay, Vart de ri/iiaillerie c/iez les fidtiens, Baris, 1875.


pluDibciini ; or whether again it was their own invention, is a
problem which still awaits solution ^ A few facts appear to be
quite certain. One is that the red Celtic enamel was first employed
as a substitute for the coral with which, down to about 15.C. 250, the
Celts were in the habit of enriching their bronze ornaments^ The
increased intercourse with the East following the conquests of
Alexander, introduced coral to the notice of orientals; and so large
a demand for it arose, that it began to grow scarce in those
European districts where it had hitherto been most lavishly
employed. The Celts were then obliged to seek a substitute, and
it is at this period that the fusible red glass first appears. But it
must be noticed that at first the Celtic worker in metal did not
use the opaque red glass as an enamel: he treated it just as he had
treated the coral which it had displaced, chipping and grinding it
into form, and applying it cold without any process of fusion.
It was only by degrees that he learned to fuse the mass to the
metal base, and even then the fusion was at first partial and im-
perfect. These facts seem to tell against the theory that the Celts
invented enamelling, more especially as the masses of red glass
found on Celtic sites turn green when properly fused, and green
was not the colour which the craftsman and his customers desired
to produce. The red Celtic enamel owes its rich tint to suboxide
of copper (CUoO), and it changes its colour when fused because
this oxide absorbs oxygen and passes into 2CuO. Sir A. H.
Church has suggested^ that these masses would yield a red if the
enamellers placed a layer of charcoal or a little rosin on the surface

1 The often-quoted passage in Philostratus {hones, i, ch. 28) runs as follows : TaOra
(fyaal to, xP'^MCiTa toi)s ev (VKfavu papjSdpovs eyxew rw x°-^'^V SiuTrvpq), to. 5e crvpiffTacrOai
Kai Xidovcrdai, Kal cnh^eiv a eypd.(f)i]. The author is describing a boar hunt, at which the
riders appear with horse-trappings ornamented in bright colours. Altliough Philostratus
does not say that the barbarians living fV djKeat><^ were the only people known to him
who made enamels, he seems to imply that they were exceptionally skilful in this work.
Mr Franks long ago pointed out that the phrase describing these people is peculiarly
applicable to the inhabitants of our islands, where in fact the most numerous enamelled
horse-trappings have been found (in Examples of ornamental art in glass and enamel,
edited by J. B. Waring, p. 14). Continental archaeologists have replied that the word
ocean used by so late a writer need not mean the Atlantic.

- The whole question of the use and disuse of coral is discussed by Mr Reginald
Smith, Proc. Sac. Antiquaries of London, Vol. XXH, pp. 138 ff.

^ The results of Sir A. H. Church's investigations are unpublished.


before fusion, to prevent the absorption of oxygen. The Celtic
craftsman may have done this, but if so it seems probable that he
learned the device from some people more expert in the vitreous
arts than his own, a people to whom his treatment of the glass
mass as coral would have appeared the expedient of barbaric
ignorance. The Koban enamels are very possibly older than any
Celtic enamels which are well and truly fused ; and it may be that
the knowledge which inspired Koban was derived from regions
further to the south. Asia Minor and Syria have never been
searched for such small antiquities in the systematic manner
which has yielded such important results on northern sites : when
this becomes possible, the clue to more than one mystery may be
discovered. Meanwhile we should remember that it was in the
Hellenistic area during the period after Alexander, that the alche-
mists turned their attention to simulating precious stones by means
of coloured glass pastes. The glass with which they achieved
success was a lead glass, with which alone a sufficient variety of
colours can be obtained. The fact suggests a connection between
the invention of coloured pastes and the discovery of an enamel
suited for the decoration of metal surfaces. Should this supposi-
tion prove correct, the second birthplace of enamelling on metal
may be one day discovered in Hither Asia, perhaps in the ancient
glass-making region of the Phoenician coast. On the other side it
may, however, be urged that the wide distribution of early Euro-
pean enamels in the districts north of the Alps would be anomalous
on such a theory, which would lead us rather to seek them in
Italy, a country in more direct maritime connection with Syria,
It is further remarkable that the northern enamels are not of the
cloisonne variety on gold, as we should expect if their invention
was connected with paste simulating gems, but of the coarser
champleve kind upon bronze or copper bases. In the present
condition of our knowledge the question teems with difficulties
which it would be profitless to discuss at greater length in the
present place. It must suffice to have stated the principal facts as
far as they are at present known ^

For Celtic enamels the reader may also consult Mr Franks' remarks in J. Kemble's
Horae Ferales, London, 1863, p. 185 and pis. xiv, xv, xix, xx ; and the British Museum
Guide to the Iron Age.

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Online LibraryFitzwilliam Museum. McClean BequestCatalogue of the mediaeval ivories, enamels, jewellery, gems and miscellaneous objects bequeathed to the museum by Frank McClean → online text (page 4 of 14)