Sunday, October 23, 2011
I stole this image of an elephant from another blog, http://sergioruzzier.blogspot.com/2011/06/some-elephants-i-like.html. It identifies the image as from as Jacob van Maerlant, Der Naturen Bloeme. Flanders or Utrecht, circa 1450-1500. Whatever. I like its long long legs, wicked grin, toothy tusks, and vacuum cleaner hose trunk. And I like the mushroomy trees. Why can't nature look like that?
I wanted an elephant for today because I've been reading and thinking and writing about ivories and I want to acknowledge where they come from. Sometimes you can see it in the objects, in the big standing Virgins that bend following the curve of the trunk; in the the small very round seated Virgins cut from smaller cross sections. Flip either over, if you could, and you would see the hole for the vein that ran through the tusk. And of course you can often see the veining of the ivory itself, the mark that it was once alive.
I've been reading the inventories of 14thC French kings and queens to see what they thought of ivory as a material. Its interesting in being both elevated and ordinary, religious and secular or personal, used for Virgins mounted on silver and silver-gilt bases and dripping with jewels and pearls, but also for buttons and boxes and the handles of knives and fans or flyswatters. Even the Virgins are sometimes these deluxe objects but other times smaller things, just asking to be held in your hand.
But never a mention of the elephants. They are supposed to have long memories, to go to the remains of their dead and handle the bones, which makes me think of medieval relics, ceremonies of their translation, and commemorations of the saints. Would the elephants themselves be able to remember the elephant in the ivory? Would the carvings be for them the relics of their ancestors?