Ivory casket

The 14th century French gothic ivory casket or coffret that has been temporarily blocked from export by the UK government.

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It had been sold for £1.2m (or close to £1.45m with the 25/20% premium added) at Lyon & Turnbull on May 20, 2021, as reported in ATG (issue no: 2494).

The decision to temporarily decline an export licence to its new owner follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest.

The casket is one of just nine known 14th century French composite caskets that depict scenes from medieval romance tales.

It includes a detailed and early depiction of wild men (mythical creatures appearing in medieval European art).

The lid of the casket shows these wild men and knights engaged in a battle for a castle and its female occupants in a rare variation on the popular theme of the storming of the Castle of Love.

The Castle of Love was a commonly depicted scene on secular ivories in the 14th century in which women and girls are shown defending a castle attacked by knights. The scene was so popular at the time that there are records of re-enactments where castles were built and defended by women and girls of the town while men attacked them with fruits and flowers. 

Meanwhile, the back panel of the casket depicts the outcome of this particular struggle: a victorious knight kneeling in front of a king with a procession of knights and ladies leading the captured wild men in chains. 

Committee member Stuart Lochhead said: “This French 14th-century carved ivory casket’s provenance indicates that it was continuously owned by the same family in Scotland for about 400 years which is a remarkable and significant provenance for a medieval object. 

“The casket is an exciting addition to a rare group of secular medieval ivory carvings and with a long history of Scottish ownership that needs further in-depth research, its loss to an overseas buyer would be very regrettable.“

The decision on the export licence application for the ivory casket will be deferred until March. The price needed to be raised is £1.506m (the sale price plus fees and costs).