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Silver-gilt chalice

 

Height: 14.000 cm
Diameter: 12.700 cm (bowl)

From the collection of the late Sir John Noble, Bt., of Ardkinglas, Argyll
Purchased with assistance from The Art Fund

M&ME 1968,12-6,1

Room 40: Medieval Europe

    Silver-gilt chalice

    Medieval, around AD 1250
    From England

    This chalice is in very good condition, retaining much of its original gilding. In fact it is an extremely rare survival of exceptional quality, and possibly the finest piece of medieval silver plate in The British Museum's collections. It is one of a very small group of English chalices, two of which are to be found in Norway and Sweden. How do we know that the chalices are English and not Scandinavian? Stylistically the surviving chalices are very close. The larger number are to be found in English ecclesiastical collections. Furthermore, documentary evidence exists which identifies two English goldsmiths working in Norway in the second quarter of the thirteenth century. If not themselves responsible for the production of the chalices in Scandinavia, they are likely to belong to a greater expatriate community of artisans making such items.

    Why are survivals of church plate so rare and where did this example come from? The Reformation in the sixteenth century and the Civil War in the seventeenth century resulted in much destruction of ecclesiastical objects. The value of gold and silver plate was not overlooked and much of it was confiscated, melted down and reworked. This piece probably escaped detection because it was buried in the tomb of a bishop or an archbishop. Tombs were often opened and relocated in the nineteenth century for reasons such as the refurbishment of churches.

    J. Robinson, Masterpieces: Medieval Art (London, British Museum Press, 2008)

    C. Oman, English church plate, 597-1830 (Oxford University Press, 1957)

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