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Late 12th or early 13th c.


Ivory, wood, metal


10.5 x 17.5 x 11.3 cm


Purchase, gift of F. Cleveland Morgan, inv. 1952.Dv.5


Archeology and World Cultures

Sicily was transformed under Muslim rule, which spanned from the 9th to the mid-11th centuries. Palermo, the capital, became a prosperous cosmopolitan cultural centre renowned for its arts and crafts, which were exported throughout the Mediterranean region. If unfortunately little remains of the arts of Muslim Sicily, many artifacts have survived from after the Norman takeover in 1061. These objects testify to the forgotten diversity of south European culture. Sicilian art under Norman rule was an auspicious marriage of influences from the Latin West, Greek Byzantium and the Islamic world. Ivory was a favourite material, and a number of painted ivory boxes and caskets are extant, largely because they were preserved in European churches, where they served as reliquaries. Made of ivory panels attached to a wooden frame, they are typically rectangular with a flat lid or, as here, a truncated pyramidal one. The ivory casket in the museum’s collection is adorned with symmetrically placed animal motifs, gazelles, dog-like lions and birds, including what appears to be a peacock, all of which were once considered symbols of good fortune.

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