Andrew Simsky (asimsky) wrote,
Andrew Simsky

The Ivory Casket of Sens, known as 'La Sainte Chasse'

This Byzantine ivory casket of 10-11 century AD is a highlight of the Museum of Sens (France, Burgundy). The casket was used for many centuries as a church tabernacle, but its initial purpose is uncertain. Based on its shape and size, it could have been meant to be a storage for a crown. The casket is covered by 46 ivory images in 4 horizontal layers denoted a,b,c,d; there are 12 flat sections in each layer closing a 12-sided polygon. The images tell the stories of David (a) and Joseph (b+d). Level (c) is taken up by beasts.

General view and notation of sections

At this point I publish here only the images with captions based on the museum guide and good sense. I found a dissertation on this casket (see below), but I did not read it yet. In the future I plan to place here a summary. The photos below are all mine, and the quality is mixed; some are better than others ... I still decided to publish them because for now it is just not available in the Internet, while the imagery is quite peculiar and worthy of attention. So we begin.

First let us go through the story of David (level a)

1a. Young David tends the sheep and plays with a dog (1 Sam 16:11)

2a. David kills a bear and a lion (1 Sam 17:35)

3a. Jesse takes his 7 sons to Samuel (1 Sam 16:10)

4a. Samuel chooses and blesses David (1 Sam 16:12)

5a. Samuel annoints David (1 Sam 16:13)

6a. The king of Philistines sends Goliath to battle (1 Sam 17:4-6)

7a. Saul blesses David to fight Goliath (1 Sam 17:37)

8a. Bottom: the duel; top: David cuts off Goliath's head (1 Sam 17:50-51)

9a. David returns to Jerusalem; women are dancing and singing, while Saul watches from his tower (1 Sam 18:6-8)

10a. Saul tries to kill David two times (1 Sam 18:11)

11a. David cuts off a corner of Saul's robe in the desert of En Gadi (1 Sam 24:4)

12a. David calls out to Saul and shows him a corner of his robe (1 Sam 24:11)

The story of David ends here; now the story of Joseph (level b); note that position 12b is taken by a lock

1b. Joseph finds his brothers in Dothan having a meal (Gen 37:17)

2b. Brothers take off Joseph's clothes; Reuben tries to protect him (Gen 37:21-23)

3b. Brothers place Joseph in a cistern (Gen 37:24)

4b. Brothers sell Joseph to Ishmaelites; money is counted on his back (Gen 37:28)

5b. Brothers with Joseph's clothes (?) (Gen 37:31)

6b. The captain of the guard brings Joseph to Potifar (Gen 39:1) (Gen 39:1)

7b. Jacob sees Joseph's robe stained with goat's blood (Gen 37:33)

8b. Joseph being sold to Potiphar by merchants (?) (Gen 37:36)

9b. Joseph in charge of Potiphar's household (Gen 39:4-6)

10b. Joseph leaves his cloak in the hands of Potiphar's wife (Gen 39:12)

11b. Potiphar's wife brings his cloak to Potiphar (Gen 39:17-18)

12b. Potiphar sends Joseph to prison (?) (Gen 39:20)

To continue with Joseph, we jump up to level (d), that is the conic lid.

1d. Joseph fettered in prison

2d. Joseph explains the dreams to Pharaoh's cupbearer and to the chief baker (Gen 40:12-18)

3d. Pharaoh sees a dream: seven lean cows eat seven fat cows (Gen 41:4; 41:20)

4d. Joseph is released from prison (Gen 41:14)

5d. Joseph explains to Pharaoh his dream (Gen 41:25-32)

6d. Joseph in charge of Egypt (Gen 41:43)

7d. The cup in Benjamin's bag; Judah prostrates before Joseph (Gen 44:14)

8d. Joseph's brothers come back to Canaan and unload the grain

9d. Jacob goes to Egypt in a chariot (Gen 46:5)

10d. Joseph meet his father Jacob; top: Cain kills Abel (Gen 46:29)

11d. Joseph gives a feast to Jacob and his brothers

12d. Jacob blesses Joseph's sons (Gen 48:9)

This is the end of the story of Joseph. Now we go around level (c) to see the bestiary

1c. Peacocks

2c. Lions

3c. Peacocks

5c. Lions (4c is taken by a lock)

7c. Hyppogryph kills a horse (6c is taken by a lock)

8c. Hyppogryph bites off horse's leg

9c. Lion hunting a deer

10c. Hyppogryph fighting a serpent

12d. Lion hunting an antelope

John Eric Hanson. The Ivory Casket in Sens Known as 'La Sainte Chasse' / University of London, 1996
Tags: bible, byzanium, ivory, medieval iconography, sainte chasse

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