- Museum number
Two semi-circular copper alloy plaques with enamel and gilding; one plaque with two censing angels emerging from clouds, inscribed border; second plaque with a kneeling tonsured figure with crozier presenting a portable altar.
The plaques are semicircular, 'dished' with a flat rim. Backs: There are marks left by two clamps on the back of each, at the rim and a circular piece of brass in the centre. They were not original. No other features on the backs. Fronts: Virtually all the gilding has been lost and there is some damage to the enamel, particularly on the second plaque. Verse inscriptions in two lines (each line either two hexameters or an elegiac couplet) are engraved radially within the flat rim (18 mm wide). The rim has a recessed beaded border, executed with a tool with a hollow circular tip about 1 mm wide, with five small regular pinholes through the beading and two along the straight edge for attachment to a wooden core. Later pinholes through the extremities of the inscriptions and a plugged pinhole near the concave centre of each plaque are related to the later rivets and circular foot of the plate. The letters were originally filled with deep blue enamel. In the concave semicircular fields:
Plaque (1): two half-length censing angels, emerging from clouds. They are censing something beneath them, so that this plaque was originally set at the top of an object. They swing the censers in their extended right hands, and the three chains and the censers themselves overlap each other to form a cross pattern. The left angel holds a bowl (perhaps a chalice) in his left hand, the right angel has his left hand outstretched. The heads are delicately engraved and reserved, the drawing of the features and hair filled with dark blue enamel. The draperies are deep blue/ pale blue/blue-white, deep blue/turquoise/pale green and deep blue/deep green/pale green, and similar combinations are found in the bands of the stylised clouds in the upper corners and on some of the wing-feathers of the angels. Opaque red is also used in the clouds and a deep translucent red is found not only in the clouds but also on areas of the wings. Two brighter wing areas are of turquoise/white and of green/white. The censers, which have two distinctive designs - the left one with a turreted top, the right one with fluted sides - use opaque colours, not in mixed fields: (left) opaque red, yellow, white, turquoise and deep blue; (right) opaque red and white; and their triple chains contrast (deep blue for the red and white censer on the right, red for the multi-coloured censer on the left). The left angel's chalice(?) is of opaque red with yellow, which adds a bright accent in the upper left area of the plaque. The two haloes are both given a row of dappled yellow dots, but one (on the left) is deep translucent red, the other deep blue. Damaged areas of enamel (in the clouds, on the wings and in the red halo) have been restored with a resinous inlay.
Plaque (2): The semi-recumbent figure of Bishop Henry (HENRICVS . EPISCOP(VS)) in blue enamel at bottom right) is in the traditional pose of a donor at the foot of, or below to the left of, an object: he is tonsured, as befits a Cluniac monk and his delicately hatched and engraved features and hair are filled with blue enamel. His full-length tunic is of deep blue/pale blue/blue-white, its interior being in deep translucent red where it shows near his feet; over it he wears a mantle of deep blue/deep green/pale green/yellow, and his shoes are of turquoise. Henry's right cuff is reserved and engraved with a scalloped pattern filled with red enamel and with a deep blue interior to the cuff. A chain of three linked ovals falls to the left of this cuff; the chain is reserved and filled with blue. Within the mantle Henry wears a tight-fitting sleeve of deep translucent red. He holds a crosier with a shaft of the same deep red and a turquoise crook. With the same hand and also with his right hand he supports as if on his left shoulder a big rectangular object: its surface is divided into three turquoise ovals by a reserved studded border filled with red enamel, the ovals linked to each other and to the edges by little roundels and half roundels; between the ovals are spandrels of deep translucent red, and the whole rectangle has an enamelled frame of deep blue within pale blue within white. Restoration with a resinous inlay has been made to the extremity of Henry's right foot, and to part of the top oval and border of the rectangular object carried by Henry.
- Production date
- 1150 - 1171 (circa; before 1171)
Width: 182 millimetres (together)
Depth: 19 millimetres (max; plaque 1)
- Curator's comments
Text from Zarnecki et al, 1984, cat. no. 277a and b, see bibliography
'Two semicircular 'dished' plaques: copper, hammered, champlevé, engraved, enamelled and gilded; diam 178/179 mm
277a Two censing angels, emerging from clouds; the border inscribed:
+ MVNERA GRATA DEO PREMISSVS VERNA FIGVRAT. ANGELVS AD CELVM RAPIAT POST DONA DATOREM;. NE TAMEN ACCELERET NE SVSCITET ANGLIA LVCTVS, CVI PXA (for pax) VEL BELLVM MOTVSVE QVIESVE PER ILLUM.
("The aforementioned slave shapes gifts pleasing to God. May the angel take the giver to Heaven after his gifts, but not just yet, lest England groan for it, since on him it depends for peace or war, agitation or rest.")
277b A kneeling tonsured doner with a crosier, identified by inscription as HENRICVS EPISCOP (VS), presenting an oblong object; the border inscribed:
+ ARS AVRO GEMMISQ (UE) PRIOR, PRIOR OMNIBVS AVTOR. DONA DAT HENRICVS VIVVS IN ERE DEO, MENTE PAREM MVSIS (ET) MARCO VOCE PRIOREM. FAME VIRIS, MORES CONCILIANT SUPERIS.
("Art comes before gold and gems, the author before everything. Henry, alive in bronze, gives gifts to God. Henry, whose fame commends him to men, whose character commends him to the heavens, a man equal in mind to the Muses and in eloquence higher than Marcus [that is, Cicero].")
These plaques were made by a Mosan goldsmith for Henry of Blois with whom no other surviving work can with any certainty be associated. Opinions differ as to who is referred to in the first inscription as "the aforementioned slave" (the artist? the donor?). However, as the plaques must originally have been above and beneath a central scene or relic, perhaps with other intervening plaques, the inscription should not be read as a sequence; in any case one is in hexameters, the other in elegiac couplets. Therefore the original evidence to identify the "slave" is lost. Opinions also differ as to what object Bishop Henry is presenting; it has been suggested that it is a representation of the shrine of St Swithun, but no evidence exists to connect Henry with a refurbishment of the Winchester shrine. The most plausible theory is that Henry is presenting an altar, set with precious-coloured stone rondels. If so, the plaques either form part of the decoration of the altar itself, or possibly decorated the top and bottom terminals of a large ross set on the altar. The first inscription has been interpreted as referring to the events of the civil war, and the plaques have therefore been dated before King Stephen's death in 1154. Although such an interpretation cannot be excluded as a possibility, the only certainty is that the plaques were made posthumously and therefore date before Henry's death in 1171. It is not known whether the plaques were commissioned for Winchester, Glastonbury or some other English House.
Recent study in the British Museum laboratory has confirmed the very close similarity between the plaques and a particular group of Mosan plaques, eleven in all, of which one is in the British Museum, four in the Victoria and Albert Museum, four in the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York, and two in the Louvre. The palette and distribution of the coloured glass is the same, although this is not obvious since the Henry of Blois plaques have lost most of their gilding and this has seriously falsified their appearance. Also closely similar is the drawing style, clearly visible in X-rays; the poses of the figures are typically Mosan, and other details including the epigraphy are common to both series. The Henry of Blois plaques are by a major Mosan goldsmith. Given the references to England in the first inscription, they were probably executed in England. They bear eloquent testimony to the presence of a great Mosan artist in England around the middle years of the 12th century, executing a commission for one of the foremost patrons of the time.
Haney, 1982a, pp 220-30
Stratford, 1983 (with bibliog.)
Fischer, Gentleman's Magazine, 1813, LXXXIIII, no84, p545.
Sale Catalogue Southgate & Son, 31 August-2 September 1837, lot 381
Franks, A W, On the new additions to the collection of National Antiquities in the British Museum, Archaelogical Journal, 1853, Vol. X, pp. 9-11.
Society of Antiquaries, Minutes, Journal of the Society of Antiquaries of London, 1839, vol.37.
Labarte, Histoire des Arts industriels au Moyen-Âge, 1875, vol III, p136.
Voss, Heinrich von Blois, Bischof von Winchester (1119-71), 1932.
Bergman, Ornamenta Ecclesiae. Kunst und Kunstler der Romanik, 1985, noB10.
Oakeshott, The Two Winchesters Bibles, 1981, p7; pl5; pp135-136.
Beckwith, Ivory Carvings in Early Mediaeval England, 1972, pp99-101.
Knowles, Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester 1129-71, Winchester Cathedral Record no.41, 1972.
Colish, A twelfth-century problem, Apollo, 1968, vol. 77, pp36-41.
Davis, King Stephen 1135-1154, 1967, opp p69.
Gauthier, L'Art Mosan, Journées d'etudes, 1953, pp133-34.
Oman, Influences mosanes dans les emaux anglais, L'Art Mosan, journees d'etudes, 1953, pp155-56.
Swarzenski 1967 no195.
The palette is: deep blue (5PB 2/4), pale blue/blue-white (5PB 4-5/4), turquoise (10BG 4/4), green (7.5G 3/4), pale green (10GY 4/4), yellow (7.5Y 5/4), opaque red (Z.5YR 3/6), deep red (approx. 10RP 2/2 and approx. 2.5R 2/2). For a technical discussion of the deep red glass, see the Appendix.
Composition of the alloys (XRF analysis, British Museum Research Laboratory):
Plaque (1) 98.9% Cu, <0.3% Zn, 0.6% Pb, <0.2% Sn, <0.1% As
Plaque (2) 98.8% Cu, <0.3% Zn, 0.7% Pb, <0.2% Sn, <0.1% As
The marks left by two clamps at the rim and a circular piece of brass in the centre of each plaque are referred to in 1813 as 'clumsily' riveting the plaques together and acting as a stand for the plate (‘Gentleman's Magazine’ LXXXIII, December 1813, p. 545).
Notes on translation of the inscription on plaque 1:
The help is acknowledged of Professor Christopher Brooke, who in his turn consulted Dr. Michael Winterbottom, and of Mr. Christopher Hohler. For previous translations, see Isaacs, Franks, Mitchell, Boase, Chamot, Colish, Gauthier 1972, Oakeshott.
'Praemissus verna': taken variously to refer to the artist, to the donor and even to a dead saint (St Swithun) 'sent on ahead'. The preceding inscription has been lost, so that there can be no certainty. If 'aforementioned slave' is correct, then the reference is probably to the artist rather than the donor who appears in the following line. An alternative meaning for the line could be, 'The servant sent on ahead symbolises (typifies) gifts pleasing to God'; in which case the verse refers to a neighbouring scene, for instance the Return of the Spies from the Promised Land (Numbers XIII, 24) or Eliezer and Rebecca (Genesis XV, 3 ff.), and does not relate to the rest of the inscription.
'Datorem': Probably Bishop Henry, since he is named as the donor in the second inscription (see below). However, the possibility that there was more than one donor cannot be wholly excluded.
'Acceleret': It is not certain whether the angel or England is the subject of acceleret, but the general meaning is clear. The donor is still alive.
'Suscitet': Ought to mean 'lest England arouse groans (in some person or institution)'. The present translation strains the meaning of suscito.
Notes on translation of the inscription on plaque 2:
'Ars auro gemmisque prior': this phrase is often quoted by historians as a statement of medieval aesthetic attitudes. It is however a literary topos, deriving from Ovid (Metamorphoses II, 5: 'materiam superabat opus') and a common enough sentiment expressed in relation to medieval works of art; cf. also Wisdom XIII.
'Autor': the patron or the artist? There are numerous medieval examples of auctor used of a patron; the word here probably refers to Bishop Henry, who is the object of praise in the next two lines.
'Vivas': although several translators from Isaacs and Franks onwards have rendered this line as 'Henry while alive gives gifts of bronze to God', Mitchell was surely correct to translate 'Henry, alive in bronze . . .', which reflects the order of the words.
'(Et) Marco': there is a tironian et before Marco. Isaacs and Franks already translated Marcus as Cicero. See also Winchester Cathedral Library, Cod. 3, fol. 123-4, for a poem, copied in the thirteenth century, in which Henry is referred to as 'Tempore pro nostro noster erat Cicero' (Voss, p. 178; cf. Oakeshott, p. 135).
Franks was the first to point out that the Bishop Henry of plaque (2) must be Henry of Blois, who is the only eligible English twelfth-century monk-bishop (the figure does not wear the pallium, so that Henry Murdac, archbishop of York (1147-53) must be excluded). Henry of Blois, King Stephen's younger brother, Henry I's nephew and the Conqueror's grandson, was born at some time during the 1090s and brought up as a child oblate at Cluny where he became a monk. In 1126 he was sent, doubtless at the suggestion of Henry I who was a major benefactor of Cluny, by abbot Pontius of Cluny to take charge of the Cluniac priory at Montacute (Somerset); and in the same year he was elected at Henry I's insistence abbot of Glastonbury, the richest abbey in Norman England, to which by special papal dispensation he was allowed to add in 1119 the richest of the English bishoprics, Winchester. Thus, until his death in 1171 he was vastly influential and wealthy. As Papal legate in England from 1139-43, he played a major political and military role in the Civil War on Stephen's side, but from the time of Henry II's accession in 1154 his political status waned. He is known to have travelled abroad, for instance on one or two occasions to the Papal Curia, during the period 1148-50, and he spent a period of exile at Cluny in 1155-8. He was a great builder, both military and ecclesiastical, and a patron of the arts: apart from the two plaques under discussion, only one other object is certainly connected with him, a massive pontifical ring given to St Albans (recorded in a coloured mid-thirteenth-century drawing in Matthew Paris' ‘Liber Additamentorum’, see Neil Stratford, in Catalogue ‘English Romanesque Art’ 1984, no. 318). However, he reset with gold, silver and precious stones the altar stone (described as de saphiro by Adam of Domerham), reputed to have been given to Glastonbury by St David (according to an interpolation in William of Malmesbury, see John Scott, ‘The early history of Glastonbury. An edition, translation and study of William of Malmesbury’s De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie’, Woodbridge, 1981, pp. 82-3, 195 (note 65); Adam of Domerham, ‘Historia de rebus gestis Glastoniensibus’, ed. T. Hearne, II, Oxford, 1727, pp. 316-17), and he gave other textiles, ivories and a silver-gilt cross with figures of the Virgin and St John, set with gold and gems, to Glastonbury (Lehmann-Brockhaus, 1955-60, no. 1868), as well as rewarding a Glastonbury goldsmith, Turstin, for services rendered (Lehmann-Brockhaus, no. 5225). As for his gifts to Winchester, they were listed posthumously in two slightly differing late twelfth-century versions (see Edmund Bishop, Gifts of Bishop Henry of Blois, Abbot of Glastonbury, to Winchester Cathedral, in ‘Downside Review’, in, 1884, pp. 33-44). Neither in the case of the Glastonbury altar and cross, nor among Henry's gifts to Winchester (where no. 2 reads: ‘Tabula aurea ad maius altare operta auro et ornata esmallis et multis lapidibus pretiosis’; no. 18: ‘Item cassula aurea signata cum esmallis desuper’), can the two British Museum plaques be definitely identified, although attributions will be found in the previous literature (e.g. Boase, Oakeshott). Another hypothesis, first tentatively launched by Mitchell, connects the plaques with a new shrine of St Swithun at Winchester, which it is claimed was made to house his translated relics in 1150. A single entry in the unreliable Winchester Annals under the year 1150 refers to the translation of the relics of Sts Birinus, Swithun, Birsten and Elfege (in that order), but does not mention Henry of Blois or a new shrine, whereas under 1167 the annalist fully records Henry's consecration of a great cross, which is no. 1 in the list of Henry's gifts to the Cathedral (Bishop); no mention is made among these gifts of a shrine to St Swithun. An argument e nihilo for the plaques as originating from St Swithun's shrine must be abandoned (for a fuller discussion of this theory, see Stratford 1983, pp. 30-1). To date, all efforts to trace the provenance of the plaques before c. 1800, by consulting the scattered collections of drawings left behind by Thomas Fisher, have failed. (For Fisher, the earliest known owner of the plaques, whose antiquarian publications centred on Bedfordshire, Kent, London and Warwickshire, see 'Dictionary of National Biography'.) That the plaques were made for an English house seems likely in view of the references to England in the first inscription, but Henry's career and widespread patronage do not allow of a confident choice from a wide field of possible recipients: Glastonbury, Montacute, St Albans, St Martin-le-Grand (of which Henry was Dean) and Winchester, to name only the most obvious. Furthermore, the reference to England's dependence on the donor in matters of peace or war, etc., has led to the plaques being dated to before Stephen's death in 1154, when Henry was at the height of his power (Franks and virtually all authors since, with the exception of Mitchell and Gauthier, date the plaques pre-1154). This cannot be taken as certain: the inscription is of only general application as a laudatory phrase, and Bishop pointed out that Henry's greatest period as a benefactor of Glastonbury and Winchester was probably in his later years. All that can be said for certain is that Henry was alive when the plaques were made; so much is clear from the last two lines of the first inscription. They were therefore executed before 1171.
The plaques have been published on several occasions with the angels' plaque shown beneath the Henry plaque, since this was their arrangement when they were clamped together as a plate. However the angels' plaque was above, the Henry plaque directly beneath or to the left below a central scene, figure or relic; in this way, the inscriptions read the right way up. The scale of the plaques suggests that they were part of a major ensemble; in which case the two inscriptions are not likely to have followed on directly one after the other, as has often been assumed by translators, but to have been separated by one or more intervening plaques with lost inscriptions. In our present state of knowledge, each inscription must be read on its own (this non-sequential reading is also justified by the fact that one is a set of four Leonine hexameters, the other a pair of elegiac couplets) and, given the physical relationship of the two plaques, the angels' inscription probably came earlier in the sequence than the Henry inscription, since it was set at the top. In an effort to make sequential sense of the inscriptions as a pair, several previous translators have begun with the Henry inscription and followed straight on into the angels' inscription. The archaeology of the plaques goes against such a reading.
What sort of object did the plaques decorate? The regular pinholes prove that they were attached to a wooden core. Various possibilities may be envisaged, which would accommodate two semicircular 'dished' plaques around a central scene, figure or relic: first, a big altar retable of the type known from a famous drawing of 1661 of the now-destroyed St Remaclus retable at Stavelot (Fig. 2 - see Krempel 1971, p. 2.3 (pl. 1), with full Bibl. pp. 42-3 (note 3); Kotzsche 1978 and 1985), in the upper part of which four semicircular plaques, partly enamelled, were grouped around a square central plaque, and their spandrels filled by a further four near-semicircular plaques (the semicircular Stavelot plaques were even larger than the Henry of Blois plaques - well over 300 mm in width); secondly, a very big phylactery of a type preserved on a smaller scale in St Petersburg (registration nos. 1888,1110.3-6); Lapkovskaja 1971, text p. 14, pl. pp. 8-9; Lafontaine-Dosogne 1975, pp. 91-4 (no. 2)), where a censing angel above and a recumbent donor-like St John below are on semicircular plaques radiating from a central square plaque of Christ; thirdly, a big altar-cross with semicircular plaques on its terminals, perhaps incorporated in the centre of a retable, perhaps free-standing (very large altar-crosses of enamel did exist in the twelfth century, not only in the Limoges sphere (see Marie-Madeleine Gauthier, G. Francois, ‘Medieval Enamels. Masterpieces from the Keir Collection’, British Museum Publications, 1981, Cat. no. 2) but made also by the Mosan workshops, abbot Suger of St-Denis' giant cross and cross-foot being the most celebrated example (see Verdier 1970). If the object held by the left angel on plaque 1 is indeed a chalice, an altar-cross becomes the most likely solution of the problem.
In most Romanesque works of art where an arrangement of semicircular fields radiates from a central scene or image, the straight side of the semicircle abuts the centre, whereas with the two plaques it was the curved side which was towards the centre, as occasionally in stained-glass windows of the twelfth century, e.g. at St-Denis, Troyes and Canterbury, and on the Mosan Alton Towers' triptych in the Victoria and Albert Museum. A more important piece of evidence is the object carried by Henry in his donor portrait, for normally in Romanesque art a donor carries a more or less accurate 'shorthand' representation of the object he is presenting (a church, a book, a cross, etc.). Henry's gift is oblong, tapers slightly towards the top in 'perspective' and presents a surface decorated with three oval enamelled turquoise disks. Framing bands with a motif of small studs are reserved and enamelled in red, being joined to each other by pearled disks, while half-disks join the bands to the blue- and white-enamelled frame; a rich deep red fills the spandrels between the ovals. This object does not resemble a shrine so much as the top of an altar, which would explain its treatment with richly coloured glasses to emulate rare stones or marbles of the type often set into the top of Romanesque altars, whether stone altars in the church or portable altars. Thus, it is possible that Henry's gift is an altar or portable altar, encrusted with rare stones or marbles such as porphyry. If so, the plaques could come from the altar antependium or its retable, either as part of a cycle of radiating plaques around a central panel or as part of a cross integral to the retable, or from the terminals of a big cross set on the altar. An exceptionally large portable altar also remains an outside possibility, as does a rectangular reliquary shrine like the Charlemagne arm-reliquary box in the Louvre.
The drawing style of the plaques as revealed in x-rays is identical to that of the British Museum's Naaman plaque (registration no. 1884,0606.3). The cutting of the drapery with the folds of cloth reserved in the metal is the same, and particularly striking is the similarity between the heads of Henry and Naaman: the lines are weighted with differing strengths of the engraving tool in precisely the same way; a wide deep channel outlines the forehead and nearer side of the face but the beard and hair are executed with delicate shallow strokes whilst the lines of eyebrows, eyelids and pupils, as well as the uppermost lines of beard and moustache, are cut to just a fraction deeper. Only with the Naaman series of twelve plaques and the Henry of Blois plaques does this subtlety of engraving occur; in other Mosan and English enamels of the twelfth century, the line drawing is more uniformly weighted and seldom achieves this level of precision, which provides a remarkable contrast of drawing style to the Naaman/Henry of Blois plaques, and see also a detail of the chalice in plaque 1, compared with the bowl of the Museum's Passover plaque (registration no. 1856,1217.1), a comparison which underlines the sheer technical accomplishment of the Henry of Blois goldsmith). As to the muscles on Henry's neck and hands, they are rendered in a closely similar way to the sketched muscles which articulate Naaman's naked body in the reserved metal.
If the enamelling is compared, this only confirms the close similarity. Here the frontier of coincidence is passed, for the techniques involved are highly sophisticated; the cbampleve process is marked by several stages, from the first broad, deep cutting of the outlines to the delicate light strokes of the inner engraving. An interesting detail which is revealed only on the x-ray of the angels' plaque is the tiny prick-marks on the wings to mark out in advance the salient points for drawing the wing feathers, prior to the clearing of the fields; these pricks were so deep that their deepest level survived the final levelling of the fields. As for the glasses used on the Naaman series and the Henry plaques, they are virtually identical. Four colours measured on the Munsell scale are indeed identical, remarkable when the minute nuances of this measuring-system are borne in mind. With one exception (yellow), the other colours are slightly different, although the quoted Munsell figures and letters tend to obscure to the reader just how close they are in reality. Examined with the naked eye and a microscope, only the yellow is markedly a different glass, the other measurements being explained either by wear or varying depths of cutting: the Henry plaques have a larger surface area but weigh no more than the massively thick Naaman series of plaques; the latter is cut slightly deeper. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, with the exception of the yellows, the same glasses are involved. In both, too, the firing was remarkably successful, with perfect transitions from deep to brighter hues through intermediate hues within the same field. The goldsmith's only conservatism is that he does not employ speckled enamel. On the Henry plaques he even uses opaque red and the remarkable translucent deep red, either separately or together in mixed fields, whereas in the Naaman series they are normally fired by themselves.
The epigraphy of the inscriptions, when compared with that of the inscriptions on the series of the Naaman plaques, reinforces these stylistic and technical comparisons: the same stocky square letter-forms, the flicks at the end of the vertical and horizontal strokes, the elegant curls to the final stroke of the Rs, the forms of both uncial and square M, etc.
The Henry of Blois plaques are therefore to be attributed to the Naaman goldsmith, who was a Mosan artist. As with the Naaman series, so the Henry plaques occupy a recognisable place in the history of mid-twelfth-century Mosan art. The most important connections are with the Berlin MS Kupferstichkabinett 78 A 6 (see Klemm 1973) and two leaves in Liège and the Victoria and Albert Museum (see curatorial comment of registration nos. 1884,0606.3 and 1856,0718.1). The head of the left angel is of a type frequently found in Mosan art: not only is it closely similar to e.g. the head of the angel on the Three Marys plaque of the Naaman series (in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) but to several heads in the Berlin MS (cf. fols 4r-v). Again in the Berlin MS, the head of a youth (fol. 5V, among the group facing Jacob) is of exactly the same type as the right angel's head on plaque 1 and the heads of the doctor to the left of Christ in the Temple and of Simeon in the Presentation in the Temple (fols 7r, 9r) are closely related to Henry's head on plaque 2; so much so that only the tonsure can be said to 'represent' Henry, whose likeness is a stereotype given to several Old and New Testament figures in the manuscript. The probability that the manuscript was a 'model-book' makes this relationship highly significant. Haney pointed out a more far-reaching relationship between the Henry plaques and Mosan manuscript illumination. The poses and distribution of the draperies of the two half-length angels on plaque 1 belong to a repertoire which presupposes Mosan 'model-books' and can be seen not only in the mid-twelfth-century Berlin MS (fol. 2v), but at a further remove in the Floreffe Bible (British Library, Add. MSS 17737-8), which must date after 1153 and before 1172 (Köllner 1973 superseding Chapman 1971 on the date of the Bible). The same presupposition would explain - in the case of the semi-recumbent crouching figure of Henry - how this particular pose is so characteristic of a whole series of the miniatures of the mid-twelfth-century Mosan MS of Gregory the Great's ‘Dialogues’, where it is repeated, turned on its side, reversed, in fact constantly varied (Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, MSS 9916-17, which illustrate fols 27r and 30r, comparisons already proposed by Haney). For the Brussels Gregory MS, see Catalogue ‘Ornamenta Ecclesiae’ 1985, 1, pp. 292-4 (B76), with Bibl. Minor details corroborate the Henry plaques' place in Mosan art of c. 1150: the crosier held by Henry is of the same simple form with a curled crook as the crosier held by the kneeling abbot in a St-Trond MS (Liège, Bibliothèque de l'Université MS 26 C, fol. I - see Stiennon 1953, pl. 5(b)); the reserved and scalloped decoration of Henry's cuff is identical to hems in the Berlin MS (fol. 9r), and such decorated hems and cuffs are a leitmotiv of Mosan art (see Chapman 1980, p. 34). The conclusion must be that the plaques and the Naaman series (registration no. 1884,0606.3) are directly related to the Berlin MS.
Henry of Blois therefore seems to have commissioned the plaques from a Mosan goldsmith, whose activities probably date from around the middle years of the century (the theory that the inscriptions imply a date before 1154 may therefore be correct, though unprovable). Henry was widely travelled, passing for instance through Champagne and Flanders on his journeys (for the date of Henry's one or two visits to Italy, see C. N. L. Brooke's Appendix 1 to ‘The Letters of John of Salisbury, Volume I’, ed. W. J. Millor, S. J. and H. E. Butler, Nelson Medieval Texts, 1955, pp. 253-4; ‘John of Salisbury’s Historia Pontificalis’, ed. M. Chibnall, Nelson Medieval Texts, 1956, pp. 91-4. See also Voss 1932, p. 65 and note 57). It is therefore conceivable that the plaques were part of a commission for a foreign destination, e.g. Cluny. However, the likelihood of this is remote, given the insistence on England in the inscriptions and the early nineteenth-century English provenance of the plaques. It should be remembered that the Naaman series of twelve plaques, by the same goldsmith, may in their turn come from England. None of the attributable English twelfth-century enamels is related to the Henry plaques (contrast Catalogue ‘English Romanesque Art’ 1984, nos 274-6, 278-90). For the time being, therefore, as a working hypothesis it would seem that the Henry of Blois plaques were executed c. 1150 by a Mosan goldsmith for an English house and perhaps in England.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2012 26 Feb-28 May, Germany, Münster, Domkammer der Kathedralkirche St Paulus, Goldene Pracht: Mittelalterliche Schatzkunst in Westfalen.
2010 13 Jul-29 Dec, France, Cluny, Cluny Abbey, Cluny et Europe
1985 7 Mar-9 Jun, Germany, Cologne, Museum Schnütgen, Ornamenta Ecclesiae: Romanesque Art and Artists in Cologne
1984 5 Apr-8 Jul, London, Hayward Gallery, English Romanesque Art 1066- 1200
1850, London, House of the Society of Arts, Works of Ancient and Mediaeval Art
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Presented, joined together as a circular dish, to the British Museum in 1852, by the Revd George Murray 'at the desire of the late Revd Henry Crowe, Vicar of Buckingham, who had bought them in 1837 as an 'ancient Alms Basket' at the sale of the collection of the antiquary, Thomas Fisher (1782-1836); first recorded and engraved by Fisher as a 'plate' in December 1813, at which time it is not certain whether the plaques already belonged to Fisher, having been 'preserved in a respectable family for a number of years'.
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number