About this object

Carved narwhal tusk, likely to have been used as one of a pair of processional candlesticks. May have been carved in England, possibly in the workshop of Lincoln Cathedral. Upper section has four spiralling carved panels with two alternating designs separated by plain bands: (i) foliage design (b) winged dragons chasing animals. The lower section has four carved panels with two alternating designs separated by plain bands (i) human figures surrounded by plant decoration (ii) figures with profile heads. Originally decorated with strips of copper, covered in gold; a few of the pins, and the holes they made, are still visible. One of only two complete, or nearly complete, carved narwhal tusk of this type known to exist. The other example attributed to the same period is to be found at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. May have been used as a pair of processional candlesticks.

A previous owner bought it in 1957 for £12 as one of a group of walking sticks at a sale in Hereford. Once recognized as a rare survival from pre-Reformation England, the narwhal tusk was sold at Christie’s in 1994 but an export licence was withheld, giving the Museum the opportunity to save it for the nation.

Object specifics

  • Type
  • Culture
  • Artist/Maker
    Unknown or unrecorded
  • Place made
    Europe: Northern Europe: UK: England
  • Date made
    Mid - 12th Century AD
  • Materials
    Tooth Ivory Narwhal
  • Location
    Item not currently on display
  • Acquisition
    Purchased with the assistance of the Art Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Friends of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside.
  • Collector
    Unknown or unrecorded
  • Place collected
    Europe: Northern Europe: UK: England: Herefordshire: Hereford
  • Date collected
  • Measurements
    1100 mm x 52 mm
  • Related people

Where is this object from?

Explore related


  • Ivory Carvings in Early Medieval England

    Beckwith, J

    Author: Beckwith, J
    Publisher: Oxford University Press
    Date: 1990


  • Sotheby's Auction House Sale 5 July 1994

    Start date: 1994-07-05
    End date: 1994-07-05
    Description: Sale of antiquities

  • Of Monsters and Miracles

    Start date: 1995-09-07
    End date: 1995-09-07
    Description: Exhibition run by Croydon Mueums Service


Previous owners

  • Christie's South Kensington Ltd

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1994-07-05
    Disposal method: Unknown or unrecorded
Object view = Humanities
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