Saddle, ca. 1400–1420
Central Europe, perhaps Bohemia
Staghorn, lindenwood, rawhide, birchbark, paint; Overall 13 5/16 x 20 1/2 x 13 5/8 in. (33.8 x 52.1 x 34.6 cm)
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1940 (40.66)
This ceremonial parade saddle, and about twenty others of the same manufacture, are made with large bone plaques carved in low relief and affixed to a structure of wood and leather. Decorated with a mix of both religious and secular themes that glorify chivalry, the depictions celebrate courtly life.
Prominently positioned under the pommel is the image of Saint George slaying the dragon. A ubiquitous image of the ideal knight, it could also be a reference to the Order of the Dragon founded by Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor. (It is also found on other, similar bone saddles.) Alternately, the one-headed eagle on the support plaque may be emblematic of Wenceslas IV, who bore the title King of the Romans.
However, neither this saddle nor any of the twenty related ones can be traced earlier than the nineteenth century; consequently, purported historical links cannot be confirmed at present. Records of the Prague 'Order of Saddle Makers' of 1451 do make specific reference to birch saddles decorated with bone, but we cannot assume that their practice was unique.