Donation: medieval knife decorated with scenes of love

14 February 2014

The medieval knife, side 1The medieval knife, side 1
Detail side 1: Man and woman embracing each otherDetail side 1: Man and woman embracing each other
The medieval knife. side 2The medieval knife. side 2
Detail side 2: man playing flute, woman playing luteDetail side 2: man playing flute, woman playing lute

Just before Valentine’s Day 2014, the National Museum of Antiquities received a very appropriate donation: a knife from around AD 1500 with beautiful engraved scenes of love. The knife was found during excavation work on the building site for Rotterdam's new city hall and donated to the National Museum of Antiquities with love by its owner, a member of the museum's circle of friends.

Explicit symbolism

Each side of the handle shows a man and a woman. On one site, they are locked in an intimate embrace, and on the other side they are playing a lute and a flute. The explicit symbolism of the second scene required no explanation in the Middle Ages and remains fairly clear today. The knife was probably a present from a man to the woman he loved. It obviously saw a lot of use, so the gift must have been appreciated.

Inscriptions on the handle

This small knife, just 15 centimetres long, is made of iron and has a brass handle. Below the images of the man and woman is a banderole (a scroll-like decoration) with an inscription in Middle Dutch. The sides of the handle also have inscriptions engraved into them, four lines in total. These inscriptions are still being deciphered, but it is clear that their theme is love. Phrases include myen hartgen (my little heart), and the basic message is that it causes pain (lijden doet) when you have to part (scheiden moet) from your beloved.