1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ivory
IVORY (Fr. ivoire, Lat. ebur), strictly speaking a term confined to the material represented by the tusk of the elephant, and for commercial purposes almost entirely to that of the male elephant. In Africa both the male and female elephant produce good-sized tusks; in the Indian variety the female is much less bountifully provided, and in Ceylon perhaps not more than 1% of either sex have any tusks at all. Ivory is in substance very dense, the pores close and compact and filled with a gelatinous solution which contributes to the beautiful polish which may be given to it and makes it easy to work. It may be placed between bone and horn; more fibrous than bone and therefore less easily torn or splintered. For a scientific definition it would be difficult to find a better one than that given by Sir Richard Owen. He says: “The name ivory is now restricted to that modification of dentine or tooth substance which in transverse sections or fractures shows lines of different colours, or striae, proceeding in the arc of a circle and forming by their decussations minute curvilinear lozenge-shaped spaces.” These spaces are formed by an immense number of exceedingly minute tubes placed very close together, radiating outwards in all directions. It is to this arrangement of structure that ivory owes its fine grain and almost perfect elasticity, and the peculiar marking resembling the engine-turning on the case of a watch, by which many people are guided in distinguishing it from celluloid or other imitations. Elephants’ tusks are the upper incisor teeth of the animal, which, starting in earliest youth from a semi-solid vascular pulp, grow during the whole of its existence, gathering phosphates and other earthy matters and becoming hardened as in the formation of teeth generally. The tusk is built up in layers, the inside layer being the last produced. A large proportion is embedded in the bone sockets of the skull, and is hollow for some distance up in a conical form, the hollow becoming less and less as it is prolonged into a narrow channel which runs along as a thread or as it is sometimes called, nerve, towards the point of the tooth. The outer layer, or bark, is enamel of similar density to the central part. Besides the elephant’s tooth or tusk we recognize as ivory, for commercial purposes, the teeth of the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, cachalot or sperm-whale and of some animals of the wild boar class, such as the warthog of South Africa. Practically, however, amongst these the hippo and walrus tusks are the only ones of importance for large work, though boars’ tusks come to the sale-rooms in considerable quantities from India and Africa.
Generally speaking, the supply of ivory imported into Europe comes from Africa; some is Asiatic, but much that is shipped from India is really African, coming by way of Zanzibar and Mozambique to Bombay. A certain amount is furnished by the vast stores of remains of prehistoric animals still existing throughout Russia, principally in Siberia in the neighbourhood of the Lena and other rivers discharging into the Arctic Ocean. The mammoth and mastodon seem at one time to have been common over the whole surface of the globe. In England tusks have been recently dug up—for instance at Dungeness—as long as 12 ft. and weighing 200 ℔. The Siberian deposits have been worked for now nearly two centuries. The store appears to be as inexhaustible as a coalfield. Some think that a day may come when the spread of civilization may cause the utter disappearance of the elephant in Africa, and that it will be to these deposits that we may have to turn as the only source of animal ivory. Of late years in England the use of mammoth ivory has shown signs of decline. Practically none passed through the London sale-rooms during 1903–1906. Before that, parcels of 10 to 20 tons were not uncommon. Not all of it is good; perhaps about half of what comes to England is so, the rest rotten; specimens, however, are found as perfect and in as fine condition as if recently killed, instead of having lain hidden and preserved for thousands of years in the icy ground. There is a considerable literature (see Shooting) on the subject of big-game hunting, which includes that of the elephant, hippopotamus and smaller tusk-bearing animals. Elephants until comparatively recent times roamed over the whole of Africa from the northern deserts to the Cape of Good Hope. They are still abundant in Central Africa and Uganda, but civilization has gradually driven them farther and farther into the wilds and impenetrable forests of the interior.
The quality of ivory varies according to the districts whence it is obtained, the soft variety of the eastern parts of the continent being the most esteemed. When in perfect condition African ivory should be if recently cut of a warm, transparent, mellow tint, with as little as possible appearance of grain or mottling. Asiatic ivory is of a denser white, more open in texture and softer to work. But it is apt to turn yellow sooner, and is not so easy to polish. Unlike bone, ivory requires no preparation, but is fit for immediate working. That from the neighbourhood of Cameroon is very good, then ranks the ivory from Loango, Congo, Gabun and Ambriz; next the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Cape Coast Castle. That of French Sudan is nearly always “ringy,” and some of the Ambriz variety also. We may call Zanzibar and Mozambique varieties soft; Angola and Ambriz all hard. Ambriz ivory was at one time much esteemed, but there is comparatively little now. Siam ivory is rarely if ever soft. Abyssinian has its soft side, but Egypt is practically the only place where both descriptions are largely distributed. A drawback to Abyssinian ivory is a prevalence of a rather thick bark. Egyptian is liable to be cracked, from the extreme variations of temperature; more so formerly than now, since better methods of packing and transit are used. Ivory is extremely sensitive to sudden extremes of temperature; for this reason billiard balls should be kept where the temperature is fairly equable.
The market terms by which descriptions of ivory are distinguished are liable to mislead. They refer to ports of shipment rather than to places of origin. For instance, “Malta” ivory is a well-understood term, yet there are no ivory producing animals in that island.
Tusks should be regular and tapering in shape, not very curved or twisted, for economy in cutting; the coat fine, thin, clear and transparent. The substance of ivory is so elastic and flexible that excellent riding-whips have been cut longitudinally from whole tusks. The size to which tusks grow and are brought to market depends on race rather than on size of elephants. The latter run largest in equatorial Africa. Asiatic bull elephant tusks seldom exceed 50 ℔ in weight, though lengths of 9 ft. and up to 150 ℔ weight are not entirely unknown. Record lengths for African tusks are the one presented to George V., when prince of Wales, on his marriage (1893), measuring 8 ft. 71 in. and weighing 165 ℔, and the pair of tusks which were brought to the Zanzibar market by natives in 1898, weighing together over 450 ℔. One of the latter is new in the Natural History Museum at South Kensington; the other is in Messrs Rodgers & Co.’s collection at Sheffield. For length the longest known are those belonging to Messrs Rowland Ward, Piccadilly, which measure 11 ft. and 11 ft. 5 in. respectively, with a combined weight of 293 ℔. Osteodentine, resulting from the effects of injuries from spearheads or bullets, is sometimes found in tusks. This formation, resembling stalactites, grows with the tusk, the bullets or iron remaining embedded without trace of their entry.
The most important commercial distinction of the qualities of ivory is that of the hard and soft varieties. The terms are difficult to define exactly. Generally speaking, hard or bright ivory is distinctly harder to cut with the saw or other tools. It is, as it were, glassy and transparent. Soft contains more moisture, stands differences of climate and temperature better, and does not crack so easily. The expert is guided by the shape of the tooth, by the colour and quality of the bark or skin, and by the transparency when cut, or even before, as at the point of the tooth. Roughly, a line might be drawn almost centrally down the map of Africa, on the west of which the hard quality prevails, on the east the soft. In choosing ivory for example for knife-handles—people rather like to see a pretty grain, strongly marked; but the finest quality in the hard variety, which is generally used for them, is the closest and freest from grain. The curved or canine teeth of the hippopotamus are valuable and come in considerable quantities to the European markets. Owen describes this variety as “an extremely dense, compact kind of dentine, partially defended on the outside by a thin layer of enamel as hard as porcelain; so hard as to strike fire with steel.” By reason of this hardness it is not at all liked by the turner and ivory workers, and before being touched by them the enamel has to be removed by acid, or sometimes by heating and sudden cooling, when it can be scaled off. The texture is slightly curdled, mottled or damasked. Hippo ivory was at one time largely used for artificial teeth, but now mostly for umbrella and stick-handles; whole (in their natural form) for fancy door-handles and the like. In the trade the term is not “riverhorse” but “seahorse teeth.” Walrus ivory is less dense and coarser than hippo, but of fine quality—what there is of it, for the oval centre which has more the character of coarse bone unfortunately extends a long way up. At one time a large supply came to the market, but of late years there has been an increasing scarcity, the animals having been almost exterminated by the ruthless persecution to which they have been subjected in their principal haunts in the northern seas. It is little esteemed now, though our ancestors thought highly of it. Comparatively large slabs are to be found in medieval sculpture of the 11th and 12th centuries, and the grips of most oriental swords, ancient and modern, are made from it. The ivory from the single tusk or horn of the narwhal is not of much commercial value except as an ornament or curiosity. Some horns attain a length of 8 to 10 ft., 4 in. thick at the base. It is dense in substance and of a fair colour, but owing to the central cavity there is little of it fit for anything larger than napkin-rings.
Ivory in Commerce, and its Industrial Applications.—Almost the whole of the importation of ivory to Europe was until recent years confined to London, the principal distributing mart of the world. But the opening up of the Congo trade has placed the port of Antwerp in a position which has equalled and, for a time, may surpass that of London. Other important markets are Liverpool and Hamburg; and Germany, France and Portugal have colonial possessions in Africa, from which it is imported. America is a considerable importer for its own requirements. From the German Cameroon alone, according to Schilling, there were exported during the ten years ending 1905, 452,100 kilos of ivory. Mr Buxton estimates the amount of ivory imported into the United Kingdom at about 500 tons. If we give the same to Antwerp we have from these two ports alone no less than 1000 tons a year to be provided. Allowing a weight so high as 30 ℔ per pair of tusks (which is far too high, perhaps twice too high) we should have here alone between thirty and forty thousand elephants to account for. It is true that every pair of tusks that comes to the market represents a dead elephant, but not necessarily by any means a slain or even a recently killed one, as is popularly supposed and unfortunately too often repeated. By far the greater proportion is the result of stores accumulated by natives, a good part coming from animals which have died a natural death. Not 20% is live ivory or recently killed; the remainder is known in the trade as dead ivory.
In 1827 the principal London ivory importers imported 3000 cwt. in 1850, 8000 cwt. The highest price up to 1855 was £55 per cwt. At the July sales in 1905 a record price was reached for billiard-ball teeth of £167 per cwt. The total imports into the United Kingdom were, according to Board of Trade returns, in 1890, 14,349 cwt.; in 1895, 10,911 cwt.; in 1900, 9889 cwt.; in 1904, 9045 cwt.
From Messrs Hale & Son’s (ivory brokers, 10 Fenchurch Avenue) Ivory Report of the second quarterly sales in London, April 1906, it appears that the following were offered:—
|From Zanzibar, Bombay, Mozambique and Siam||17|
|West Coast African||11|
|Sea horse (hippopotamus teeth)||13|
Hard ivory was scarce. West Coast African was principally of the Gabun description, and some of very fine quality. There was very little inquiry for walrus. The highest prices ranged as follows: Soft East Coast tusks (Zanzibar, Mozambique, Bombay and Siam), 102 to 143 ℔. each £66, 10s. to £75, 10s. per cwt. Billiard-ball scrivelloes, £104 per cwt. Cut points for billiard-balls (31 in. to 23 to 3 in.) £114 to £151 per cwt. Seahorse (for best), 3s. 6d. to 4s. 1d. per ℔. Boars’ tusks, 6d. to 7d. per ℔.
|Zanzibar, Bombay, Mozambique and Siam||81||75||76|
|West Coast African||463||391||411|
|Seahorse teeth and Boars’ tusks||7||93||7|
& Son’s Charts, which show the prices at each quarterly sale from 1870).
|Billiard Ball pieces||£55||£90||£112||£68||£167|
|Hard Egyptian 36 to 50 ℔.||30||38||50||29||48|
|Soft East Indian 50 to 70 ℔.||67||55||88||57||72|
|West Coast African 50 to 70 ℔.||36||57||65||48||61|
|Hard East African 50 to 70 ℔.||37||49||64||48||61|
In October 1889 soft East Indian fetched an average of £82 per cwt., but in several instances higher prices were realized, and one lot reached £88 per cwt. At the Liverpool April sales 1906 about 71 tons were offered from Gabun, Angola, and Cameroon (from the last 53 tons). To the port of Antwerp the imports were 6830 cwt. in 1904 and 6570 cwt. in 1905; of which 5310 cwt. and 4890 cwt. respectively were from the Congo State.
The leading London sales are held quarterly in Mincing Lane, a very interesting and wonderful display of tusks and ivory of all kinds being laid out previously for inspection in the great warehouses known as the “Ivory Floor” in the London docks. The quarterly Liverpool sales follow the London ones, with a short interval.
The important part which ivory plays in the industrial arts not only for decorative, but also for domestic applications is hardly sufficiently recognized. Nothing is wasted of this valuable product. Hundreds of sacks full of cuttings and shavings, and scraps returned by manufacturers after they have used what they require for their particular trade, come to the mart. The dust is used for polishing, and in the preparation of Indian ink, and even for food in the form of ivory jelly. The scraps come in for inlaying and for the numberless purposes in which ivory is used for small domestic and decorative objects. India, which has been called the backbone of the trade, takes enormous quantities of the rings left in the turning of billiard-balls, which serve as women’s bangles, or for making small toys and models, and in other characteristic Indian work. Without endeavouring to enumerate all the applications, a glance may be cast at the most important of those which consume the largest quantity. Chief among these is the manufacture of billiard-balls, of cutlery handles, of piano-keys and of brushware and toilet articles. Billiard-balls demand the highest quality of ivory; for the best balls the soft description is employed, though recently, through the competition of bonzoline and similar substitutes, the hard has been more used in order that the weight may be assimilated to that of the artificial kind. Therefore the most valuable tusks of all are those adapted for the billiard-ball trade. The term used is “scrivelloes,” and is applied to teeth proper for the purpose, weighing not over about 7 ℔. The division of the tusk into smaller pieces for subsequent manufacture, in order to avoid waste, is a matter of importance.
The accompanying diagrams (figs. 1 and 2) show the method; the cuts are made radiating from an imaginary centre of the curve of the tusk. In after processes the various trades have their own particular methods for making the most of the material. In making a billiard-ball of the English size the first thing to be done is to rough out, from the cylindrical section, a sphere about 21 in. in diameter, which will eventually be 21 or sometimes for professional players a little larger. One hemisphere—as shown in the diagrams (fig. 2)—is first turned, and the resulting ring detached with a parting tool. The diameter is accurately taken and the subsequent removals taken off in other directions. The ball is then fixed in a wooden chuck, the half cylinder reversed, and the operation repeated for the other hemisphere. It is now left five years to season and then turned dead true. The rounder and straighter the tusk selected for ball-making the better. Evidently, if the tusk is oval and the ball the size of the least diameter, its sides which come nearer to the bark or rind will be coarser and of a different density from those portions further removed from this outer skin. The matching of billiard-balls is important, for extreme accuracy in weight is essential. It is usual to bleach them, as the purchaser—or at any rate the distributing intermediary—likes to have them of a dead white. But this is a mistake, for bleaching with chemicals takes out the gelatine to some extent, alters the quality and affects the density; it also makes them more liable to crack, and they are not nearly so nice-looking. Billiard-balls should be bought in summer time when the temperature is most equable, and gently used till the winter season. On an average three balls of fine quality are got out of a tooth. The stock of more than one great manufacturer surpasses at times 30,000 in number. But although ball teeth rose in 1905 to £167 a cwt., the price of billiard-balls was the same in 1905 as it was in 1885. Roughly speaking, there are about twelve different qualities and prices of billiard-balls, and eight of pyramid- and pool-balls, the latter ranging from half a guinea to two guineas each.
The ivory for piano-keys is delivered to the trade in the shape of what are known as heads and tails, the former for the parts which come under the fingers, the latter for that running up between the black keys. The two are joined afterwards on the keyboard with extreme accuracy. Piano-keys are bleached, but organists for some reason or other prefer unbleached keys. The soft variety is mostly used for high-class work and preferably of the Egyptian type.
The great centres of the ivory industry for the ordinary objects of common domestic use are in England, for cutlery handles Sheffield, for billiard-balls and piano-keys London. For cutlery a large firm such as Rodgers & Sons uses an average of some twenty tons of ivory annually, mostly of the hard variety. But for billiard-balls and piano-keys America is now a large producer, and a considerable quantity is made in France and Germany. Brush backs are almost wholly in English hands. Dieppe has long been famous for the numberless little ornaments and useful articles such as statuettes, crucifixes, little bookcovers, paper-cutters, combs, serviette-rings and articles de Paris generally. And St Claude in the Jura, and Geislingen in Würtemberg, and Erbach in Hesse, Germany, are amongst the most important centres of the industry. India and China supply the multitude of toys, models, chess and draughtsmen, puzzles, workbox fittings and other curiosities.
Vegetable Ivory, &c.—Some allusion may be made to vegetable ivory and artificial substitutes. The plants yielding the vegetable ivory of commerce represent two or more species of an anomalous genus of palms, and are known to botanists as Phytelephas. They are natives of tropical South America, occurring chiefly on the banks of the river Magdalena, Colombia, always found in damp localities, not only, however, on the lower coast region as in Darien, but also at a considerable elevation above the sea. They are mostly found in separate groves, not mixed with other trees or shrubs. The plant is severally known as the “tagua” by the Indians on the banks of the Magdalena, as the “anta” on the coast of Darien, and as the “pulli-punta” and “homero” in Peru. It is stemless or short-stemmed, and crowned with from twelve to twenty very long pinnatifid leaves. The plants are dioecious, the males forming higher, more erect and robust trunks than the females. The male inflorescence is in the form of a simple fleshy cylindrical spadix covered with flowers; the female flowers are also in a single spadix, which, however, is shorter than in the male. The fruit consists of a conglomerated head composed of six or seven drupes, each containing from six to nine seeds, and the whole being enclosed in a walled woody covering forming altogether a globular head as large as that of a man. A single plant sometimes bears at the same time from six to eight of these large heads of fruit, each weighing from 20 to 25 ℔. In its very young state the seed contains a clear insipid fluid, which travellers take advantage of to allay thirst. As it gets older this fluid becomes milky and of a sweet taste, and it gradually continues to change both in taste and consistence until it becomes so hard as to make it valuable as a substitute for animal ivory. In their young and fresh state the fruits are eaten with avidity by bears, hogs and other animals. The seeds, or nuts as they are usually called when fully ripe and hard, are used by the American Indians for making small ornamental articles and toys. They are imported into Britain in considerable quantities, frequently under the name of “Cỏrozo” nuts, a name by which the fruits of some species of Attalea (another palm with hard ivory-like seeds) are known in Central America—their uses being chiefly for small articles of turnery. Of vegetable ivory Great Britain imported in 1904 1200 tons, of which about 400 tons were re-exported, principally to Germany. It is mainly and largely used for coat buttons.
Many artificial compounds have, from time to time, been tried as substitutes for ivory; amongst them potatoes treated with sulphuric acid. Celluloid is familiar to us nowadays. In the form of bonzoline, into which it is said to enter, it is used largely for billiard balls; and a new French substitute—a caseine made from milk, called gallalith—has begun to be much used for piano keys in the cheaper sorts of instrument. Odontolite is mammoth ivory, which through lapse of time and from surroundings becomes converted into a substance known as fossil or blue ivory, and is used occasionally in jewelry as turquoise, which it very much resembles. It results from the tusks of antediluvian mammoths buried in the earth for thousands of years, during which time under certain conditions the ivory becomes slowly penetrated with the metallic salts which give it the peculiar vivid blue colour of turquoise.
Ivory Sculpture and the Decorative Arts.—The use of ivory as a material peculiarly adapted for sculpture and decoration has been universal in the history of civilization. The earliest examples which have come down to us take us back to prehistoric times, when, so far as our knowledge goes, civilization as we understand it had attained no higher degree than that of the dwellers in caves, or of the most primitive races. Throughout succeeding ages there is continued evidence that no other substance—except perhaps wood, of which we have even fewer ancient examples—has been so consistently connected with man’s art-craftsmanship. It is hardly too much to say that to follow properly the history of ivory sculpture involves the study of the whole world’s art in all ages. It will take us back to the most remote antiquity, for we have examples of the earliest dynasties of Egypt and Assyria. Nor is there entire default when we come to the periods of the highest civilization of Greece and Rome. It has held an honoured place in all ages for the adornment of the palaces of the great, not only in sculpture proper but in the rich inlay of panelling, of furniture, chariots and other costly articles. The Bible teems with references to its beauty and value. And when, in the days of Pheidias, Greek sculpture had reached the highest perfection, we learn from ancient writers that colossal statues were constructed—notably the “Zeus of Olympia” and the “Athena of the Parthenon.” The faces, hands and other exposed portions of these figures were of ivory, and the question, therefore, of the method of production of such extremely large slabs as perhaps were used has been often debated. A similar difficulty arises with regard to other pieces of considerable size, found, for example, amongst consular diptychs. It has been conjectured that some means of softening and moulding ivory was known to the ancients, but as a matter of fact though it may be softened it cannot be again restored to its original condition. If up to the 4th century we are unable to point to a large number of examples of sculpture in ivory, from that date onwards the chain is unbroken, and during the five or six hundred years of unrest and strife from the decline of the Roman empire in the 5th century to the dawn of the Gothic revival of art in the 11th or 12th, ivory sculpture alone of the sculptural arts carries on the preservation of types and traditions of classic times in central Europe. Most important indeed is the rôle which existing examples of ivory carving play in the history of the last two centuries of the consulates of the Western and Eastern empires. Though the evidences of decadence in art may be marked, the close of that period brings us down to the end of the reign of Justinian (527-563). Two centuries later the iconoclastic persecutions in the Eastern empire drive westward and compel to settle there numerous colonies of monks and artificers. Throughout the Carlovingian period, the examples of ivory sculpture which we possess in not inconsiderable quantity are of extreme importance in the history of the early development of Byzantine art in Europe. And when the Western world of art arose from its torpor, freed itself from Byzantine shackles and traditions, and began to think for itself, it is to the sculptures in ivory of the Gothic art of the 13th and 14th centuries that we turn with admiration of their exquisite beauty of expression. Up to about the 14th century the influence of the church was everywhere predominant in all matters relating to art. In ivories, as in mosaics, enamels or miniature painting it would be difficult to find a dozen examples, from the age of Constantine onwards, other than sacred ones or of sacred symbolism. But as the period of the Renaissance approached, the influence of romantic literature began to assert itself, and a feeling and style similar to those which are characteristic of the charming series of religious art in ivory, so touchingly conceived and executed, meet us in many objects in ivory destined for ordinary domestic uses and ornament. Mirror cases, caskets for jewelry or toilet purposes, combs, the decoration of arms, or of saddlery or of weapons of the chase, are carved and chased with scenes of real life or illustrations of the romances, which bring home to us in a vivid manner details of the manners and customs, amusements, dresses and domestic life of the times. With the Renaissance and a return to classical ideas, joined with a love of display and of gorgeous magnificence, art in ivory takes a secondary place. There is a want of simplicity and of originality. It is the period of the commencement of decadence. Then comes the period nicknamed rococo, which persisted so long. Ivory carving follows the vulgar fashion, is content with copying or adapting, and until the revival in our own times is, except in rare instances, no longer to be classed as a fine art. It becomes a trade and is in the hands of the mechanic of the workshop. In this necessarily brief and condensed sketch we have been concerned mainly with ivory carving in Europe. It will be necessary to give also, presently, some indications enabling the inquirer to follow the history—or at least to put him on the track of it—not only in the different countries of the West but also in India, China and Japan.
Prehistoric Ivory Carvings.—These are the result of investigations made about the middle of the 19th century in the cave dwellings of the Dordogne in France and also of the lake dwellings of Switzerland. As records they are unique in the history of art. Further than this our wonderment is excited at finding these engravings or sculptures in the round, these chiselled examples of the art of the uncultivated savage, conceived and executed with a feeling of delicacy and restraint which the most modern artist might envy. Who they were who executed them must be left to the palaeontologist and geologist to decide. We can only be certain that they were contemporary with the period when the mammoth and the reindeer still roved freely in southern France. The most important examples are the sketch of the mammoth (see Painting, Plate I.), on a slab of ivory now in the museum of the Jardin des Plantes, the head and shoulders of an ibex carved in the round on a piece of reindeer horn, and the figure of a woman (instances of representations of the human form are most rare) naked and wearing a necklace and bracelet. Many of the originals are in the museum at St Germain-en-Laye, and casts of a considerable number are in the British Museum.
|Fig. 3.—Panel with Cartouche, Nineveh.|
Ancient Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman Ivories.—We know from ancient writers that the Egyptians were skilled in ivory carving and that they procured ivory in large quantities from Ethiopia. The Louvre possesses examples of a kind of flat castanets or clappers, in the form of the curve of the tusks themselves, engraved in outline, beautifully modelled hands forming the tapering points; and large quantities of small objects, including a box of plain form and simple decoration identified from the inscribed praenomen as the fifth dynasty, about 4000 B.C. The British Museum and the museum at Cairo are also comparatively rich. But no other collection in the world contains such an interesting collection of ancient Assyrian ivories as that in the British Museum. Those exhibited number some fifty important pieces, and many other fragments are, on account of their fragility or state of decay, stowed away. The collection is the result of the excavations by Layard about 1840 on the supposed site of Nineveh opposite the modern city of Mosul. When found they were so decomposed from the lapse of time as scarcely to bear touching or the contact of the external air. Layard hit upon the ingenious plan of boiling in a solution of gelatine and thus restoring to them the animal matter which had dried up in the course of centuries. Later, the explorations of Flinders Petrie and others at Abydos brought to light a considerable number of sculptured fragments which may be even two thousand years older than those of Nineveh. They have been exhibited in London and since distributed amongst various museums at home and abroad.
|From photo by W. A. Mansell & Co.|
|Fig. 4.—Leaf of diptych showing combats with stags; in the Liverpool Museum.|
Consular and Official and Private Diptychs.—About fifty of the remarkable plaques called “consular diptychs,” of the time of the three last centuries of the consulates of the Roman and Greek empire have been preserved. They range in date from perhaps mid-fourth to mid-sixth centuries, and as with two or three exceptions the dates are certain it would be difficult to overestimate their historic or intrinsic value. The earliest of absolutely certain date is the diptych of Aosta (A.D. 408), the first after the recognition of Christianity; or, if the Monza diptych represents, as some think, the Consul Stilicon, then we may refer back six years earlier. At any rate the edict of Theodosius in A.D. 384, concerning the restriction of the use of ivory to the diptychs of the regular consuls, is evidence that the custom must have been long established. According to some authorities the beautiful leaf of diptych in the Liverpool Museum (fig. 4) is a consular one and to be ascribed to Marcus Julius Philippus (A.D. 248). Similarly the Gherardesca leaf in the British Museum may be accepted as of the Consul Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 308). But the whole question of the half dozen earliest examples is conjectural. With a few notable exceptions they show decadence in art. Amongst the finest may be cited the leaf with the combats with stags at Liverpool, the diptych of Probianus at Berlin and the two leaves, one of Anastasius, the other of Orestes, in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The literature concerning these diptychs is voluminous, from the time of the erudite treatise by Gori published in 1759 to the present day. The latest of certain date is that of Basilius, consul of the East in 541, the last of the consuls. The diptychs of private individuals or of officials number about sixteen, and in the case of the private ones have a far greater artistic value. Of these the Victoria and Albert Museum possesses the most beautiful leaf of perhaps the finest example of ancient ivory sculpture which has come down to us, diptychon Meleretense, representing a Bacchante (fig. 5). The other half, which is much injured, is in the Cluny Museum. Other important pieces are the Aesculapius and Hygeia at Liverpool, the Hippolytus and Phaedra at Brescia, the Barberini in the Bargello and at Vienna and the Rufius Probianus at Berlin. Besides the diptychs ancient Greek and Roman ivories before the recognition of Christianity are comparatively small in number and are mostly in the great museums of the Vatican, Naples, the British Museum, the Louvre and the Cluny Museum. Amongst them are the statuette of Penthea, perhaps of the 3rd century (Cluny), a large head of a woman (museum of Vienna) and the Bellerophon (British Museum), nor must those of the Roman occupation in England and other countries be forgotten. Notable instances are the plaque and ivory mask found at Caerleon. Others are now in the Guildhall and British Museums, and most continental European museums have examples connected with their own history.
|Fig. 5.—Leaf of Roman diptych, representing a
Bacchante; in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
|From photo by W. A. Mansell & Co.|
|Fig. 6.—Leaf of Diptych, representing|
Archangel; in the British Museum.
Early Christian and Early Byzantine Ivories.—The few examples we possess of Christian ivories previous to the time of Constantine are not of great importance from the point of view of the history of art. But after that date the ivories which we may ascribe to the centuries from the end of the 4th to at least the end of the 9th become of considerable interest, on account of their connexion with the development of Byzantine art in western Europe. With regard to exact origins and dates opinions are largely divergent. In great part they are due to the carrying on of traditions and styles by which the makers of the sarcophagi were inspired, and the difficulties of ascription are increased when in addition to the primitive elements the influence of Byzantine systems introduced many new ideas derived from many extraneous sources. The questions involved are of no small archaeological, iconographical and artistic importance, but it must be admitted that we are reduced to conjecture in many cases, and compelled to theorize. And it would seem to be impossible to be more precise as to dates than within a margin of sometimes three centuries. Then, again, we are met by the question how far these ivories are connected with Byzantine art; whether they were made in the West by immigrant Greeks, or indigenous works, or purely imported productions. Some German critics have endeavoured to construct a system of schools, and to form definite groups, assigning them to Rome, Ravenna, Milan and Monza. Not only so, but they claim to be precise in dating even to a certain decade of a century. But it is certainly more than doubtful whether there is sufficient evidence on which to found such assumptions. It is at least probable that a considerable number of the ivories whose dates are given by such a number of critics so wide a range as from the 4th to the 10th century are nothing more than the work of the monks of the numerous monasteries founded throughout the Carlovingian empire, copying and adapting from whatever came into their hands. Many of them were Greek immigrants exiled at the time of the iconoclastic persecutions. To these must be added the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon missionaries, who brought with them and disseminated their own national feeling and technique. We have to take into account also the relations which existed not only with Constantinople but also with the great governing provinces of Syria and Egypt. Where all our information is so vague, and in the face of so much conflicting opinion amongst authorities, it is not unreasonable to hold with regard to very many of these ivories that instead of assigning them to the age of Justinian or even the preceding century we ought rather to postpone their dating from one to perhaps three centuries later and to admit that we cannot be precise even within these limits. It would be impossible to follow here the whole of the arguments relating to this most important period of the development of ivory sculpture or to mention a tithe of the examples which illustrate it. Amongst the most striking the earliest is the very celebrated leaf of a diptych in the British Museum representing an archangel (fig. 6). It is generally admitted that we have no ivory of the 5th or 6th centuries or in fact of any early medieval period which can compare with it in excellence of design and workmanship. There is no record (it is believed) from whence the museum obtained the ivory. There are at least plausible grounds for surmising that it is identical with the “Angelus longus eburneus” of a book-cover among the books brought to England by St Augustine which is mentioned in a list of things belonging to Christchurch, Canterbury (see Dart, App. p. xviii.). The dating of the four Passion plaques, also in the British Museum, varies from the 5th to the 7th century. But although most recent authorities accept the earlier date, the present writer holds strongly that they are not anterior to, at earliest, the 7th century. Even then they will remain, with the exception of the Monza oil flask and perhaps the St Sabina doors, the earliest known representation of the crucifixion. The ivory vase, with cover, in the British Museum, appears to possess defined elements of the farther East, due perhaps to the relations between Syria and Christian India or Ceylon. Other important early Christian ivories are the series of pyxes, the diptych in the treasury of St Ambrogio at Milan, the chair of Maximian at Ravenna (most important as a type piece), the panel with the “Ascension” in the Bavarian National Museum, the Brescia casket, the “Lorsch” bookcovers of the Vatican and Victoria and Albert Museum, the Bodleian and other bookcovers, the St Paul diptych in the Bargello at Florence and the “Annunciation” plaque in the Trivulzio collection. So far as unquestionably oriental specimens of Byzantine art are concerned they are few in number, but we have in the famous Harbaville triptych in the Louvre a super-excellent example.
|Fig. 7.—Mirror Case, illustrating the Storming of the Castle of Love; in the Victoria and Albert Museum.|
Gothic Ivories.—The most generally charming period of ivory sculpture is unquestionably that which, coincident with the Gothic revival in art, marked the beginning of a great and lasting change. The formalism imposed by Byzantine traditions gave place to a brighter, more delicate and tenderer conception. This golden age of the ivory carver—at its best in the 13th century—was still in evidence during the 14th, and although there is the beginning of a transition in style in the 15th century, the period of neglect and decadence which set in about the beginning of the 16th hardly reached the acute stage until well on into the 17th. To review the various developments both of religious art which reigned almost alone until the 14th century, or of the secular side as exemplified in the delightful mirror cases and caskets carved with subjects from the romantic stories which were so popular, would be impossible here. Almost every great museum and famous private collection abounds in examples of the well-known diptychs and triptychs and little portable oratories of this period. Some, as in a famous panel in the British Museum, are marvels of minute workmanship, others of delicate openwork and tracery. Others, again, are remarkable for the wonderful way in which, in the compass of a few inches, whole histories and episodes of the scriptural narratives are expressed in the most vivid and telling manner. Charming above all are the statuettes of the Virgin and Child which French and Flemish art, especially, have handed down to us. Of these the Victoria and Albert Museum possesses a representative collection. Another series of interest is that of the croziers or pastoral staves, the development of which the student of ivories will be careful to study in connexion with the earlier ones and the tau-headed staves. In addition there are shrines, reliquaries, bookcovers, liturgical combs, portable altars, pyxes, holy water buckets and sprinklers, flabella or liturgical fans, rosaries, memento mori, paxes, small figures and groups, and almost every conceivable adjunct of the sanctuary or for private devotion. It is to French or Flemish art that the greater number and the most beautiful must be referred. At the same time, to take one example only—the diptych and triptych of Bishop Grandison in the British Museum—we have evidence that English ivory carvers were capable of rare excellence of design and workmanship. Nor can crucifixes be forgotten, though they are of extreme rarity before the 17th century. A most beautiful 13th-century figure for one—though only a fragment—is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Amongst secular objects of this period, besides the mirror cases (fig. 7) and caskets, there are hunting horns (the earlier ones probably oriental, or more or less faithfully copied from oriental models), chess and draughtsmen (especially the curious set from the isle of Lewis), combs, marriage coffers (at one period remarkable Italian ones of bone), memorandum tablets, seals, the pommels and cantles of saddles and a unique harp now in the Louvre. The above enumeration will alone suffice to show that the inquirer must be referred for details to the numerous works which treat of medieval ivory sculpture.
Ivory Sculpture from the 16th to the 19th Century.—Compared with the wealth of ivory carving of the two preceding centuries, the 15th, and especially the 16th, centuries are singularly poor in really fine work. But before we arrive at the period of real decadence we shall come across such things as the knife of Diana of Poitiers in the Louvre, the sceptre of Louis XIII., the Rothschild hunting horn, many Italian powder horns, the German Psyche in the Louvre, or the “Young Girl and Death” in the Munich Museum, in which there is undoubtedly originality and talent of the first order. The practice of ivory carving became extremely popular throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, especially in the Netherlands and in Germany, and the amount of ivory consumed must have been very great. But, with rare exceptions, and these for the most part Flemish, it is art of an inferior kind, which seems to have been abandoned to second-rate sculptors and the artisans of the workshop. There is little originality, the rococo styles run riot, and we seem to be condemned to wade through an interminable series of gods and goddesses, bacchanalians and satyrs, pseudo-classical copies from the antique and imitations of the schools of Rubens. As a matter of fact few great museums, except the German ones, care to include in their collections examples of these periods. Some exceptions are made in the case of Flemish sculptors of such talent as François Duquesnoy (Fiammingo), Gerard van Obstal or Lucas Fayd’herbe. In a lesser degree, in Germany, Christoph Angermair, Leonhard Kern, Bernhard Strauss, Elhafen, Kruger and Rauchmiller; and, in France, Jean Guillermin, David le Marchand and Jean Cavalier. Crucifixes were turned out in enormous numbers, some of not inconsiderable merit, but, for the most part, they represent anatomical exercises varying but slightly from a pattern of which a celebrated oneto Faistenberger may be taken as a type. Tankards abound, and some, notably the one in the Jones collection, than which perhaps no finer example exists, are also of a high standard. Duquesnoy’s work is well illustrated by the charming series of six plaques in the Victoria and Albert Museum known as the “Fiammingo boys.” Amongst the crowd of objects in ivory of all descriptions of the early 18th century, the many examples of the curious implements known as rappoirs, or tobacco graters, should be noticed. It may perhaps be necessary to add that although the character of art in ivory in these periods is not of the highest, the subject is not one entirely unworthy of attention and study, and there are a certain number of remarkable and even admirable examples.
Ivory Sculpture of Spain, Portugal, India, China and Japan.—Generally speaking, with regard to Spain and Portugal, there is little reason to do otherwise than confine our attention to a certain class of important Moorish or Hispano-Moresque ivories of the time of the Arab occupation of the Peninsula, from the 8th to the 15th centuries. Some fine examples are in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Of Portuguese work there is little except the hybrid productions of Goa and the Portuguese settlements in the East. Some mention must be made also of the remarkable examples of mixed Portuguese and savage art from Benin, now in the British Museum. Of Indian ivory carving the India Museum at Kensington supplies a very large and varied collection which has no equal elsewhere. But there is little older than the 17th century, nor can it be said that Indian art in ivory can occupy a very high place in the history of the art. What we know of Chinese carving in ivory is confined to those examples which are turned out for the European market, and can hardly be considered as appealing very strongly to cultivated tastes. A brief reference to the well-known delightful netsukés and the characteristic inlaid work must suffice here for the ivories of Japan (see Japan: Art).
Ivory Sculpture in the 19th Century and of the Present Day.—Few people are aware of the extent to which modern ivory sculpture is practised by distinguished artists. Year by year, however, a certain amount is exhibited in the Royal Academy and in most foreign salons, but in England the works—necessarily not very numerous—are soon absorbed in private collections. On the European continent, on the contrary, in such galleries as the Belgian state collections or the Luxembourg, examples are frequently acquired and exhibited. In Belgium the acquisition of the Congo and the considerable import of ivory therefrom gave encouragement to a definite revival of the art. Important exhibitions have been held in Belgium, and a notable one in Paris in 1904. Though ivory carving is as expensive as marble sculpture, all sculptors delight in following it, and the material entails no special knowledge or training. Of 19th-century artists there were in France amongst the best known, besides numerous minor workers of Dieppe and St Claude, Augustin Moreau, Vautier, Soitoux, Belleteste, Meugniot, Pradier, Triqueti and Gerôme; and in the first decade of the 20th century, besides such distinguished names in the first rank as Jean Dampt and Théodore Rivière, there were Vever, Gardet, Caron, Barrias, Allouard, Ferrary and many others. Nor must the decorative work of René Lalique be omitted. No less than forty Belgian sculptors exhibited work in ivory at the Brussels exhibition of 1887. The list included artists of such distinction as J. Dillens, Constantin Meunier, van der Stappen, Khnopff, P. Wolfers, Samuel and Paul de Vigne, and amongst contemporary Belgian sculptors are also van Beurden, G. Devreese, Vincotte, de Tombay and Lagae. In England the most notable work includes the “Lamia” of George Frampton, the “St Elizabeth” of Alfred Gilbert, the “Mors Janua Vitae” of Harry Bates, the “Launcelot” of W. Reynolds-Stephens and the use of ivory in the applied arts by Lynn Jenkins, A. G. Walker, Alexander Fisher and others.
Authorities.—See generally A. Maskell, Ivories (1906), and the bibliography there given.
On Early Christian and Early Byzantine ivories, the following works may be mentioned: Abbé Cabrol, Dictionnaire de l’archéologie chrétienne (in progress); O. M. Dalton, Catalogue of Early Christian Antiquities in British Museum (1902); E. Dobbert, Zur Geschichte der Elfenbeinsculptur (1885); H. Graeven, Antike Schnitzereien (1903); R. Kanzler, Gli avori ... Vaticana (1903); Kondakov, L’Art byzantin; A. Maskell, Cantor Lectures, Soc. of Arts (1906) (lecture II., “Early Christian and Early Byzantine Ivories”); Strzygowski, Byzantinische Denkmäler (1891); V. Schulze, Archäologie der altchristlichen Kunst (1895); G. Stuhlfauth, Die altchristl. Elfenbeinplastik (1896).
On the consular diptychs, see H. F. Clinton, Fasti Romani (1845–1850); A. Gori, Thesaurus veterum diptychorum (1759); C. Lenormant, Trésor de numismatique et de glyptique (1834–1846); F. Pulszky, Catalogue of the Féjérváry Ivories (1856).
On the artistic interest generally, see also C. Alabaster, Catalogue of Chinese Objects in the South Kensington Museum; Sir R. Alcock, Art and Art Industries in Japan (1878); Barraud et Martin, Le Bâton pastoral (1856); Bouchot, Les Reliures d’art à la Bibliothèque Nationale; Bretagne, Sur les peignes liturgiques; H. Cole, Indian Art at Delhi (1904); R. Garrucci, Storia dell’ arte Christiana (1881); A. Jacquemart, Histoire du mobilier (1876); J. Labarte, Histoire des arts industriels (1864); C. Lind, Über den Krummstab (1863); Sir F. Madden, “Lewis Chessmen” (in Archaeologia, vol. xxiv. 1832); W. Maskell, Ivories, Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum (1872); A. Michel, Histoire de l’art; E. Molinier, Histoire générale des arts (1896); E. Oldfield, Catalogue of Fictile Ivories sold by the Arundel Society (1855); A. H. Pitt Rivers, Antique Works of Art from Benin (1900); A. C. Quatremère de Quincy, Le Jupiter Olympien (1815); Charles Scherer, Elfenbeinplastik seit der Renaissance (1903); E. du Sommerard, Les Arts au moyen âge (1838–1846); G. Stephens, Runic Caskets (1866–1868); A. Venturi, Storia dell’ arte Italiana (1901); Sir G. Watt, Indian Art at Delhi (1904); J. O. Westwood, Fictile Ivories in the South Kensington Museum (1876). Sir M. D. Wyatt, Notices of Sculpture in Ivory (1856). (A. Ml.)
- Lecture before the Society of Arts (1856).