Carved ivory, or the shaping of ivory into ornaments, sculptures or other decorative items has existed for many years. The main source of ivory has been elephant tusks. The tusks of walrus and other mammals were also sometimes used. Ivory has been considered to be luxurious object. This is because of its rarity, smooth texture, fine grain and creamy light color. In many cultures, including China, Egypt, India and Japan, Ivory has been used in art. In the West also,
the use of ivory was extensive dating back to the Roman, Byzantine, Gothic, and Renaissance periods.
Till 1900, the same simple tools like ax or chisel were used in ivory carvings. These tools were used to remove the outer bark from tusk. Then a bow saw or bucksaw was used to cut the trunk into small sections. A tool called ‘float’ was sued for paring the surface. For carving, tools like hand chisels and gauges were used. After 1900, power driven rotary saws were used to cut and peel the ivory. Dental drills were used to carve ivory. This was a much faster and easier method.
From Stone Age, many carvings made of ivory, horn and bone can be found. Most of these carvings are found in Southern France. Small nude female figures were the prominent ivory art those days. During the Magdalenian period, carvings of animals could be found. Ivory of mammoth tusks were used. Hippopotamus teeth and elephant tusks were carved from early days of ancient Egypt. Hairpins, combs, etc. were made from ivory. Later, ivory was used for making handles, inlays for furniture, spoons, etc.
During the Carolingian Renaissance, ivory carvings were made from walrus. The artists carved ivory into crucifixes, book covers of psalters, relief panels, etc. From the 12th century, ivory carving was no longer the major form of art. However, ivory was carved into combs, caskets, writing tablets, chess pieces, dagger handles, etc.
Ivory carving is considered to be one of the oldest art forms in China. Carved ivory was found in the tombs of the Shang dynasty kings. Later, it became a fashion to have ivory in formal dresses in China. Beijing and Guangzhou were the main centers for Chinese ivory carvings. Ivory existed in the Middle East from the time of Muhammad. It was used to decorate door, caskets, furniture, etc. Ivory was found in plenty in India. Ivory is still used in jewelries and other decorative items. However, its legality is questioned by many people. So, it’s use is now very restricted; some countries like India have even banned it’s use.