Tuesday, July 1, 2014

To Serve and Project: An Oak Coffret, 1300-1400

England, 1300-1400
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This coffret, or casket was made to hold valuables and jewels. As such, it was as elegantly appointed as the objects it was meant to protect. During the medieval period, when many traveled for pilgrimages of various types such a casket was quite important as a means of containing what amounted to the lion’s share of a person’s important possessions. While at home, a coffret such as this one would have been proudly displayed, not only as a symbol of the household’s wealth, but also because it was attractive in its own right.

Such caskets would have been considered a suitable gift for a future bride or a couple about to be wed, and also would have been given as a gift of courtship between future bride and from. Often, the coffret was inscribed with a message of love or adorned with a scene of courtship.

For example, this coffret must have been given as a token as affection. The leather veneer is worked with a courting scene and emblazoned with love inscriptions. A lady and gentleman are depicted amongst flowers and a border of ribbons and branches. On the lid, we see a scene of knights mounted on griffins with two nudes who are holding clubs and shields. Typically such a combination of images implied that the giver of the casket meant to fight his primal desires to pursue a chaste and honorable courtship. 

The leather over the rounded oak carcase has been colored and gilt. The legend reads, “du bon du,” “mo naves,” “du bon du Coeur,” and “mon couer vous avez.” In short, that the knight meant—“with good willing”--to deliver the lady from being captured by savages and that she had his heart.

At some point, likely the 1960s, the thing was coated with shellac, which did it no favors. Still, we can imagine how brilliant it must have been when made in the 1300s. 

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