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Dancing, love and the ‘beautiful game’: a new interpretation of a group of fifteenth-century ‘gaming’ boxes

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This paper considers two bone boxes in the V&A with chequerboard bases, traditionally thought to be gaming boxes, and a related ivory comb. They belong to a large group of similar objects, which it is argued originated in the ambit of the Burgundian Netherlands in the late fifteenth century, in a common workshop using common patterns. This workshop also produced more elite objects, notably the ivory reliefs on a games board in the Bargello. The lids of the boxes depict a moresca, a well-known dance performed in court, and popular entertainments that carried connotations of sex, the folly of love and the power of women; their sides depict scenes associated with courtly love, such as jousting and hunting, while a more obscure scene of Beating the Pear Tree, is interpreted as denoting fertility. This combined imagery suggests that the objects in this group should be understood in the context of love rather than gaming. It is proposed that they are marriage boxes, made for a non-elite market (like those associated with the Embriachi), and that their chequerboard bases are purely decorative.
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Keywords: bone; comb; games; love; marriage boxes; moresca

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Victoria and Albert Museum/Independent Scholar

Publication date: February 1, 2010

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