The production of ivory objects flourished to an extraordinary extent in the Gothic period, especially in France: delicate statuettes, minutely carved diptychs and triptychs, mirror backs and wonderful caskets with secular scenes have survived in collections around the world.
The last comprehensive survey of Gothic ivories contained over 1300 items and was published by Raymond Koechlin in 1924 in his seminal three-volume work Les Ivoires gothiques français.
Since then, however, many more ivories have surfaced in auction houses, and private and public collections; valuable articles and catalogues have been written; scientific examination and increasing expertise have all shed more light on these exquisite objects. It is now time for another survey, a ‘Koechlin for the 21st-century’.
Aim and Scope
Taking as a starting point the photographic resources of the Conway Library at the Courtauld Institute of Art, which represents over 1,500 ivory objects in private and public collections, the Gothic Ivories Project is a database which aims at including all readily available information on every surviving Gothic and neo-Gothic ivory, accompanied by at least one image.
This online resource allows wide-ranging searches on iconography, provenance, origin, post-medieval repairs and replacements, modern forgeries, and many other aspects. It is possible to view in one place images and detailed information on over 5,000 items scattered in over 400 collections around the world.
Please note that the mission of the Gothic Ivories Project is to compile published information and scholarly opinion on the objects, not to emit a judgement on them.
The focus of the Project is on objects made in Europe dating from c. 1200-c. 1530 (excluding Embriachi work), and modern imitations.
A Collaborative Venture
In many cases, this collaboration was seen as an opportunity to launch new digital photography campaigns, aimed at enhancing both the Gothic Ivories Project website and the online resources of partner institutions. For numerous collections, it is now possible for the first time to see reverse, or profile views, which supply essential additional information about the pieces.
Although the Conway collection provided an excellent start, its coverage was far from comprehensive and consisted mainly of black and white images of uneven quality. In order to provide the best possible resource, the Project therefore decided to collaborate directly with repository institutions, so as to provide a comprehensive, high-quality photographic coverage of their objects.
From the very start, the Project benefitted from the invaluable support of The British Museum and The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Musée du Louvre and the Musée de Cluny-Musée national du Moyen Âge in Paris, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. The Département des Objets d’art at the Musée du Louvre gave us access to their important documentation on the subject of ivories, and we were thus able to enhance a large number of entries, thanks to their support. Little by little, as we contacted more institutions, the response to the Project was invariably positive and the support of all repository institutions and photographic agencies played a key role in the success of the Project.
Entries compiled for the Project have been systematically checked by the curators of these collections to ensure that the information was correct and as complete as possible. The Project is benefitting immensely from the interest and support of the museum community, and over 400 institutions in 27 different countries are now on board (for a list of currently collaborating institutions, see here).
Nearly all these collections are available online: the website now contains 5113 entries, illustrated with 14233 images.
It is estimated that this represents about 90 per cent of the total number of surviving pieces.
The advantages of an online resource over a book format reside in its greater flexibility and expandability, essential to the nature of the Project.
Most public collections are now online, as well as a very large number of unlocated pieces: about a fifth of the total is in private hands or on the market.
The full-time implementation and development phase of the Project managed by Catherine Yvard started in 2008 and ended in June 2015.
The content of the website will continue to be updated on a less intensive basis from October 2015.
Last updated: 26 June 2015.
This resource is fully accessible online to researchers, students, and the wider community, thus providing an invaluable tool for the study of these objects.