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Unidentified Artist, Tower Shaped Casket (12th century)

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Tower Shaped Casket (12th century) by an Unidentified Artist.

About the Work

Title : Tower Shaped Casket
Artist : Unidentified Artist
Year : 12th century
Medium : Ivory plaques mounted on oak, with gilt bronze fittings
Dimensions : 28 x 22.5 x 22.5 cm (11 x 8 7/8 x 8 7/8 in.)
Location : Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

During the Middle Ages, it was common for the Catholic Church as an institution to commission works and objets d’art. These were subsequently either used for decoration or ritual in the church. Artists creating these works would use the finest and richest materials to create them, since they were for the Church. Ivory and gold were commonly used, among other precious stones.

According to the digital archive of the Harvard Art Museums :

“The distinctive five-lobed handle and ornamental latch of this box, made of ivory plaques set around a wooden core, are typical of a group of objects made in Sicily in the twelfth century, when the island was under Norman Christian rule…The box eventually became part of what is known as the Guelph Treasure, a hoard of objects housed for over nine hundred years in the Cathedral of Saint Blaise, in Brunswick, Germany.”

This box was most probably used to hold jewelry, or as a wedding box. It was sold by the descendants of the Duke of Brunswick to the Museum.

Other Details

Unidentified Artist’s Tower Shaped Casket is housed in the Harvard Art Museums in Room 2440. It is part of the museum’s collection of Medieval Art.


To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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