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Tableman or game piece

Origin / Date Northern France or England, 12th century
Material Walrus ivory
Dimensions 46mm diameter
Availability For sale


Showing a centaur-like creature but not with six limbs. Perhaps it is an instance of the creatures caught in the ‘tangle-wood’, as Oakshott termed the inhabited foliate initials in the Winchester Bible, or unredeemed humanity before Christ, or generally the ‘wild’ side of mankind,
Diagonally undercut under the rim like various pieces grouped by Goldschmidt around ones depicting saint Martin.
In very good condition.


The diameter and pearled border are virtually identical with the goat tableman in the V&A inv. A.11-1952 (Williamson no. 111) and the tuft of its tail matches the plant behind the goat. This latter is difficult to ascribe to a definite place of manufacture, like some of the pieces in the ‘St Martin’s’ group,

For example, the nose here and the upturned face are very close to the style of those tentatively associated with St Albans such as the central figure in A.20-1961 (Williamson no 107), based on their stylistic similarity to the Albani Psalter (now Hildesheim Dombibliothek MS St Godehard 1 47.)

However, drolleries with pointed noses and hats also inhabit the scrollwork of Sawalo’s Bible made at St Amand Abbey (now Valenciennes Bib Mun. Ms 1-5) in the third quarter of the 12th century, though English influence has been suggested also for this work.

Interestingly, the moustached figure also wears a close-fitting cap like the figure in the inhabited Initial “O”,  in the Writings of Porphyry, Aristoteles and Boethius, Paris, ca. 1140, (Now Darmstadt, Hessischen Landes-und-Hochschulebibliothek Hs. 2282, fol. 23v) illustrated by Mann 1981 (Gesta XX) figure 8a.


ex collection Eugene V. Thaw.


Vivian B. Mann, Mythological Subjects on Northern French Tablemen, in Gesta 20, no. 1 1981 161-171.
John Beckwith, Ivory Carvings in Early Medieval England 700-1200. London 1974
Paul Williamson, Medieval Ivory Carvings: Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A, 2010.

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