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The Rape of Europa

  • Object:

    Panel

  • Place of origin:

    Istanbul (made)

  • Date:

    late 10th or early 11th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Museum number:

    A.541-1910

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 2

  • Public access description

    This plaque comes from the side of an ivory casket. Such recepticles were often decorated with scenes inspired by Roman art and mythology. The panel depicts Mars and Venus along with Jupiter, disguised as a bull, abducting Europa.

    The 'Rape of Europa' belongs to a group of caskets decorated with classical scenes and rosettes which are closely related to the Veroli casket. It demonstrates superbly the strong familiarity of the artists of the Macedonian Renaissance with hellenistic prototypes and the scene refers directly to classical sources.

  • Physical description

    Europa is depicted seated sideways on the bull, looking towards the sea, her left hand on the animal's neck and the other holding aloft a scarf which frames her upper body before looping under her left arm. A putto, in mid-air with outstretched arms, grasps the scarf with its right hand and holds a wreath with the left. Another putto, holding a flaming torch in its left hand, wades into the sea before the bull. This central composition is flanked on the right by the figures of Mars and Venus. On the left, are two advancing female figures with outstretched arms.

  • Dimensions

    Height: 5 cm, Length: 13 cm, Depth: 0.9 cm, Weight: 0.06 kg

  • Object history note

    Bequeathed by George Salting in 1910. Formerly in the Spitzer ( catalogue, 1890, I, p.29, No.1; Sale, 1893, Catalogue, No. 37) and Gibson-Carmichael (Sale, 1902, Catalogue, No. 181) Collections.

    Historical significance: The 'Rape of Europa' belongs to a group of caskets decorated with classical scenes and rosettes which are closely related to the Veroli casket. It demonstrates superbly the strong familiarity of the artists of the Macedonian Renaissance with hellenistic prototypes and the scene refers directly to classical sources.

  • Historical context note

    This plaque formed part of a casket in which perfume or jewellery would possibly have been preserved.

  • Descriptive line

    Casket panel, carved elephant ivory, 'The Rape of Europa', Byzantine (Constantinople), probably late 10th or early 11th century

  • Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

    A. Goldschmidt & K. Weitzmann, Die byzantinischen Elfenbeinskulpturen des X.-XII. Jahrhunderts, I, Berlin 1930, no. 23.
    Beckwith, John. The Veroli Casket. London: HMSO, 1962. p.6, Fig. 5 (Museum Monographs No. 18)
    Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 84, 5, cat.no. 16
    'Salting Bequest (A. 70 to A. 1029-1910) / Murray Bequest (A. 1030 to A. 1096-1910)'. In: List of Works of Art Acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum (Department of Architecture and Sculpture). London: Printed under the Authority of his Majesty's Stationery Office, by Eyre and Spottiswoode, Limited, East Harding Street, EC, p. 88
    Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part I. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1927, p. 36

  • Collection code

    Sculpture Collection