Sophie Rigby is a graduate student of the Courtauld Institute of Art. She graduated top-in-class from the Courtauld with her Masters degree and worked under the supervision of Dr. Anthony Eastmond. She worked in the Netherlands for Vereniging Rembrandt for a year before taking up her Masters studies. She secured her first travel scholarship as an undergraduate to undertake research across Sicily and the Veneto, and has since won a conference grant to present a portion of her thesis at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, as well as the Rice Honorarium Travel Award. Spring 2016 will see her first publications on work on ninth-century Bulgarian tile icons and carved figural tympana in Armenia.
Another chip off the ivory block?
It has long been known that ivory’s soft sheen and exquisite capacity for subtle craftsmanship charmed the Medieval eye. That some of the most precious objects surviving from the Middle Ages are made in ivory is testament to this. Ivory is that most unique of materials, its purpose supposed by not only its rarity but its form determined by the tusk’s curvature. Unlike precious metals that might be melted down, or cabochons looted and redistributed, ivory was an end in itself. It is on the premise of these qualities that the painted ivory box at the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. no. 603-1903) is an unusual object for study.
The box is presumed to be one of many made én serie for the twelfth-century Palermitan court. Though crafted in ivory, it is expensive in the cheapest way, and draws attention to the disconnect between the under-studied production and use of these boxes. The V & A box pieces together a jigsaw-like arrangement of ivory fragments, and offers an intriguing notion of ivory cut-offs finding an economical, salvaged end-point. The box opens a wider enquiry into its material that considers medieval constructions of economy, materiality and facture. This paper will consider the recycling of a craftsman’s cut-offs in light of material constitution and character. Furthermore, the box addresses notions of status relative to the way in which its material is worked, and offers an intriguing case of Medieval “waste not want not.”