Tristan casket

Tristan casket

Anon.

c.1350–1370

possibly Netherlands

carved and painted wood

This striking wooden casket unusually retains some of its original paint. It may have been used for storing valuables, and given as a love gift—especially considering the themes of love and romance in its pictorial scheme. The lid depicts a famous moment from the Tristan and Isolde story. A dwarf has tipped off King Mark that the lovers will rendezvous. He hides in a tree to spy on them, but they glimpse his reflection in the pool below and avoid incriminating themselves. In the carving here, Mark raises a sword to attack the cowering dwarf for (he thinks) slandering Tristan and Isolde, while the elegantly dressed lovers stand insouciantly on either side of the pool. The other sides (not shown here) contain more scenes related to romance motifs. On the front are two lions in the centre. In the left hand panel, a woman sits on a rock, looking back at a man. In the right hand panel, a large hairy male figure sits on a mound: almost certainly a wildman. The left side shows a hunting scene, with a hind pursued by dogs and men. The right side also includes a hunting scene, this time including a bear at bay. The back depicts a noble couple playing chess: a scene similar to the backgammon game carved in the Ashmolean ivory panels.

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