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The Victoria & Albert Museum
Made in the Fourteenth Century, the carved figures on the lid of this jewel casket depict a scene from the fabled medieval romance of Tristan and Isolde. In the story, the adulterous lovers arrange a clandestine rendezvous at a fountain where they are spied upon by Isolde's husband, King Marke, and a dwarf who are hiding in a tree—as one does.
The sides of the casket are adorned with hunting scenes as well as depictions of a lady and a “wild man,” and a couple playing chess.
When this casket was purchased by the Museum in 1855, it had been over-painted in a dark color which obscured the original bright colors with which the figures were painted. It took twenty years to strip away the layers of dark paint to reveal the original polychrome color scheme which was, remarkably, well-preserved beneath.
Such a jewel casket, in the Fourteenth Century, would have been presented to a bride as a wedding gift. They often were emblazoned with scenes of courting and affection. This one, with its cautionary tale of adultery, is quite unusual.