Oliphant

Southern Italy (probably Amalfi)
about 1100


Object Place: Europe, Amalfi, Southern Italy

Dimensions

53.4 cm (21 in.)

Accession Number

57.581

Medium or Technique

Ivory

On View

I. W. Colburn Chapel Gallery (Gallery 254A)

Collections

Europe

Classifications

Decorative arts

Elephant tusk carved in sharp relief with six wide bands depicting graphic hunting scenes of wolves attacking a deer, an eagle clutching a rabbit in its talons, and lions attacking a bull, alternating with narrow bands of zigzag ornament. Later iron chain.


Oliphant is the medieval French word for elephant. African elephant ivory, one of the most precious materials used in medieval art came to southern Italian ports through trade with the Islamic East as early as the tenth century. Oliphants were primarily intended for display although are fashioned like horns for hunting and war. The graphic hunting scenes carved on one oliphant in this case may allude to the owner’s prowess on the fields of battle and the hunt. The delicate, abstract carving on the second oliphant reflects the influence of Egyptian art and the cultural exchanges resulting from international trade.

Provenance

About 1750, acquired by Anselm Kasimir, Graf zu Eltz [see note 1]; until 1957, by descent within the family to Jakob Graf zu Eltz, Eltville, Germany; 1957, sold by Graf zu Eltz, through Count Ernst Otto von Solms-Laubach (b. 1890 - d. 1977), Frankfurt, to the MFA for $25,000. (Accession Date: October 9, 1957).

NOTES:
[1] The provenance of the oliphant was established with the generous assistance of Dr. Karl Graf zu Eltz.

Credit Line

Maria Antoinette Evans Fund