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Olifants of Knights


From 24 July to 11 October 2020, the Arsenal of Tsarskoe Selo hosts the Olifants of Knights from the State Hermitage Collection exhibition.

Olifants are mediaeval hunting horns made from elephant tusks. The two carved ivory olifants on our temporary display are from the Renaissance time period and used to belong to the collection of the Arsenal.

The horns were carved circa the 1520s in Portugal colonies in Africa (Sierra Leone).

One is inscribed IMFAMTE DOM LVIS and bears the coats of arms of Portugal and Beja Duchy, as well as a deer hunt scene and some other animals. This horn was first mentioned by physician and antiquary Ole Worm in his Danish Monuments of 1643 and described as possibly belonging to Infante Luis of Portugal, Duke of Beja, who was a son of King Manuel I, known as the Fortunate. The assumption was later repeated by Floriant Gille, head of the Arsenal collection in the nineteenth century. The carved horn of 48 cm in length is decorated with precious stones, glass and metal.

The other, 46-cm-long olifant has similarly styled carvings, probably coming from the same workshop. Purchased for the Arsenal collection in 1861, it shows animals and hunters, one of them carrying a lamb on his shoulders, and the motto SPES MEA IN DEO MEO (my hope is in God).

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