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Ivory Sculptures

Ivory has been used for sculpting since prehistoric times, and is often regarded as a rare and expensive material. Though ivory is often associated with elephant tusks, any animal tooth or tusk can be used. Ivory is especially rare in contemporary sculpture, as there are numerous restrictions and outright bans on its use today.

Ivory sculpting goes as far back as the Stone Age, which carved human and animal figures from tusks and bones. It played an important role in the arts of ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and Rome, but it was early Christianity that really adapted ivory sculpting to their needs. Because of their persecution, Christians needed small and a portable religious sculpture, for which ivory was well suited. Revivals in ivory carving took place during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and continues to thrive as an admired technical craft in certain areas of the world.

In terms of technique, little about ivory sculpture changed until the end of the 19th century. Carvers would use a chisel to strip the outer layer of the tusk, then cut the tusk into more manageable pieces before actually carving the work. At the start of the 20th century, power-driven rotary saws and drills were introduced, making ivory carving faster and less labor intensive.


Quick Facts

  • The survival rate for an ivory piece is much higher than that of other materials, as it cannot be melted down or re-used
  • In the Middle Ages, whale bone was used as a cheaper alternative
  • Ivory sculptures are especially valued for their rarity, durability, and smooth texture

Recommended Items at Auction

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FINE RUNNING UNICORN PIE CRIMPER America, Mid-19th Century Length 8".
Feb 28, 9:30 AM EST
FINE RUNNING UNICORN PIE CRIMPER America, Mid-19th Century Length 8".
by Eldred's
Est: $6,000- $8,000
$3,0000 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Ivory Sculptures


Eldred's

Eldred's