Southern Italian (Sicily or Salerno)
11th century

Object Place: Europe, Italy


Overall (maximum diameter): 53.3 x 12.7 cm (21 x 5 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


On View

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


Europe, Musical Instruments



Large tusk with three bands of carved ornament at large end, two of them cut on a raised band; at small end are two similar raised bands and two bands of flat cutting.

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. (2W03, 2004).


Graf von Walderdorff, Hesse, Germany [see note 1]. 1928, with J. Rosenbaum, Frankfurt [see note 2]. Baron Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild (b. 1843 - d. 1940), Frankfurt [see note 3]; 1950, sold by the estate of Goldschmidt-Rothschild to Rosenberg and Stiebel, New York; 1950, sold by Rosenberg and Stiebel to the MFA for $3500. (Accession Date: November 9, 1950)

[1] Hanns Swarzenski, "Two Oliphants in the Museum," MFA Bulletin 60, no. 320 (1962): p. 45 and Ernst Kühnel, Die Islamischen Elfenbeinskulpturen, VIII - XIII Jahrhundert (Berlin, 1971), p. 52, cat. no. 52. [2] Otto von Falke, "Elfenbeinhörner. II. Byzanz," Pantheon 5 (1930): p. 42. [3] In November 1938 Nazi authorities forced Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild to sell his art collection to the city of Frankfurt. Upon his death in 1940, the objects were transferred to and accessioned by various city museums. After the war, his heirs succeeded in legally voiding the 1938 sale and recuperating the collection, which was sent to the United States. See "Important French Furniture & Objets d'Art," Goldschmidt-Rothschild estate sale, part one, Parke-Bernet, New York, March 10-11, 1950, prefatory note.

Credit Line

Frederick Brown Fund and H. E. Bolles Fund