- Museum number
One of four semicircular champlevé enamel plaques (1888,1110.3-6) from a pair of phylacteries: depicting biblical scenes. This plaque depicts the 'Sacrifice of Isaac'.
Each of the four plaques have a semicircular outer edge, beaded with a tool with a hollow point of approximately 1.5 mm in width. This beaded border is recessed, and within it is a narrow reserved gilded strip 1 mm wide; on the straight inner edge of each plaque, where there is no beaded border, this reserved strip is 2 mm wide; through the outer edge, four regular pinholes are pierced for attachment to a wooden core; some of the corner pinholes are fractured. Within the reserved edge, an enamelled frame of pale blue within off-white (2.5 mm wide) surrounds the main scene; certain details of the figures break into this enamelled frame. Back: No features. Front: The sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis XXII, 9-13). Isaac (I/SAAC) is kneeling on the altar (right), while Abraham (ABRA/H-A) with raised sword grips his son's hair, about to strike; he looks back at an angel (top left) who emerges from the clouds to arrest Abraham's sword; the ram of the Genesis story is shown among foliage (bottom left). Extensive areas of enamel have been replaced with a white paste which has been painted with greens and yellows to blend in with the original glasses: these areas include much of the enamelled frame, the steps of the altar, the lower parts of Abraham's draperies, most of the clouds behind the angel and parts of the ram's thicket. The original glasses are used in a series of carefully modulated combinations: the haloes are deep blue within off-white; on the draperies and the altar are found deep blue/mid-blue/off-white, pale blue/off-white, deep blue/turquoise/pale turquoise, deep blue/turquoise/ off-white, deep blue/green, deep blue/green/yellow, green/ yellow. Opaque red is used only for the centre of the altar (where it is dotted with white) and for accents on the angel's wings and in the ram's thicket. The inscriptions are filled with dark blue enamel, and the same glass is used for the drawing of the heads and hands (the reddish tints in the hair and in details of the heads are the result of corrosion of the copper walls of the fields).
- Production date
- 1160-1170 (circa)
Length: 113 millimetres
Weight: 101 grammes
Width: 57 millimetres
- Curator's comments
Stratford 1993 (comment relating to registration nos. 1888,1110.3-6)
The Old Testament plaques (1888,1110,3-4 & 6) are of identical dimensions. They were pinned around a square central field, two vertically to the sides of the central area, one horizontally below it. They have a semicircular outer edge, beaded with a tool with a hollow point of approximately 1.5 mm in width. This beaded border is recessed, and within it is a narrow reserved gilded strip 1 mm wide; on the straight inner edge of each plaque, where there is no beaded border, this reserved strip is 2 mm wide; through the outer edge, four regular pinholes are pierced for attachment to a wooden core; some of the corner pinholes are fractured. Within the reserved edge, an enamelled frame of pale blue within off-white (2.5 mm wide) surrounds the main scene; certain details of the figures break into this enamelled frame; the straight inner enamelled frame of registration no. 1888,1110.6 is exceptional in that it is enamelled white, without the pale blue. All the compositions are densely packed with figures, so that the gilded backgrounds play only a minor role.
1888,1110.5 differs materially from the Old Testament plaques in three ways: first, the beaded outer border is tooled with closely set striations less than 1 mm wide; secondly, the enamelled frame is of turquoise within off-white; thirdly, the plaque's dimensions are smaller, with a diameter 10 mm less than the others. However, in style and technique, in layout, in the disposition of pinholes and in its alloy, the plaque obviously comes from an object which was a pair to the other plaques. The areas of damaged enamel (parts of the enamelled frame, the curtain, the writing desk and the scroll) are filled with white paste, and then painted with green and yellow or blue and white, exactly as on 1888,1110.6, further proof that the four plaques were together in the nineteenth century, before they reached Octavius Morgan's collection.
The palette is: off-white, pale blue (5PB 5/2-5/4), mid-blue (5PB 4/4-4/6), deep blue (5PB 2/4-3/4), pale turquoise (10BG 3/4); turquoise (2.5B 3/4), green (10G 3/2-3/4; 7.5G 3/4), pale green (5GY 4/2-4/4), yellow (7.5Y 6/6; 10Y 6/6), opaque red (10R 3/6).
Composition of the alloys: (Atomic Absorption Spectrometry analyses, British Museum Research Laboratory)
(1888,1110.6) 97.5% Cu, <0.01% Zn, 0.4% Pb, 1% Sn, 0.2% As, 0.04% Ni, 0.2% Sb, 0.02% Fe, 0.1% Ag, <0.01% Co, <0.01% Au, <0.01% Mn, <0.01% Cd.
(1888,1110.3) 98% Cu, <0.01% Zn, 1.6% Pb, <0.01% Sn, 0.15% As, 0.03% Ni, 0.2% Sb, 0.03% Fe, 0.07% Ag, <0.01% Co, <0.01% Au, <0.01% Mn, <0.01% Cd.
(1888,1110.4) 98% Cu, <0.01% Zn, 0.7% Pb, 0.5% Sn, 0.1% As, 0.06% Ni, 0.3% Sb, 0.02% Fe, 0.1% Ag, <0.01% Co, <0.01% Au, <0.01% Mn, <0.01% Cd.
(1888,1110.5) 98.5% Cu, <0.01% Zn, 0.7% Pb, 0.3% Sn, <0.01% As, 0.05% Ni, 0.2% Sb, 0.02% Fe, 0.08% Ag, <0.01% Co, <0.01% Au, <0.01% Mn, <0.01% Cd.
Three plaques come from the same pair of objects: (A). Trier, Domschatz, Inv. no. 39 (pi. 59). Horizontal semicircular plaque, with Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph (Genesis XLVIII, 14). In an inventory of 1803 it is recorded that it was found in the foundations of the abbey church at Prüm. Beading, pinholes, frame and dimensions prove that it definitely belonged to the same object as 1888,1110.3-4 & 6. Virtually all the enamel has been lost, though there are still traces of the deep blue within off-white enamelled frame. (Diam. (inner edge) 114 mm; radius 57 mm.)
(B)-(C). Nürnberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Inv. KG 691-2. Two upright semicircular plaques, with the Evangelists St Mark (S\MA/RC(VS)) and St Luke (S.LVCAS.) seated at lecterns writing their Gospels. The enamelled frame, beading and dimensions prove that the plaques definitely come from the same object as 1888,1110.5. Acquired in 1886 from the dealers Bourgeois frères of Köln and Paris; first recorded in 1866 in the Beresford Hope collection (a V&A photograph (Guard Books photo 6180 of 22 September 1866) shows them among 'Mr Hope's Art loans') and sold with that collection at Christie's on 13 May 1886, lot 284, to Lowenstein for £37; it is possible that they are to be identified with two semicircular enamel plaques in the Hope collection, exhibited at Manchester in 1857 (Franks' Notebook, no. 16, item 80, 5-6). (Diam. (inner edge) 103-4 mm; radius 56 mm.)
The British Museum and Nürnberg plaques were in the art market by the second half of the nineteenth century; nothing is known of their earlier history. Given that they were originally together (see below), their common origin with the Trier plaque from Prüm is of major significance. The abbey of the Holy Saviour at Prüm, in the Eifel, founded in 721, had become by the end of the eighth century Benedictine and one of the favoured abbeys of the Carolingians (members of the Imperial family, including Lothar I, were buried there); the Gorze reform came to the abbey c. 1003 but in the 1130s it was again reformed, this time by Adalbero, a former prior of the Cluny-Hirsau monastery of St Blasien in the Black Forest (Kassius Hallinger, O.S.B., ‘Gorze-Kluny’, 2 vols, Rome 1950-1, I, pp. 88-90, 125-6; II, p. 839, note). As for the Prüm treasury, a list of 1003 survives (Auguste Digot, Inventaire du trésor de l'abbaye de Prüm, in ‘Bulletin Monumental’, 1849, pp. 283-300; ed. Bischoff 1967, pp. 79-82 (no. 74)). The Maurists, dom Martène and dom Durand, during their visit of 1718 (‘Voyage littéraire de deux religieux Bénédictins . . .’, II, Paris, 1724, pp. 271-5) describe a beautiful cross containing a relic of the True Cross, studded with precious stones and, above all, two agate stones, one of which was engraved with a representation of the Emperor Lothar. This was not the only relic of the True Cross at Prüm (Frolow 1961, pp. 219 (no. 97), 276 (no. 229), 318-19 (no. 315)); the abbey was within the diocese of Trier, supposed birthplace of St Helena, finder of the True Cross (registration no. 1856,0718.1). In the years following 1721, the abbey church was restored and rebuilt, and Kuhn suggests that it was during these building works that the enamel plaque, now in Trier, was discovered in the foundations; it would have been surrendered to the abbey's administrator, the Elector Franz-Ludwig of Pfalz-Neuburg (1716-29), and thus would subsequently have come into the sacred collections of the Archbishop of Trier. These were inventoried in 1803, one year after Prüm was suppressed and its possessions dispersed, and it is in this inventory that the origins of the plaque are mentioned. It was also at this time that several important Prüm manuscripts were dispersed, to the Bibliothèque Nationale, Berlin, Manchester, Trier, etc. The six well-preserved enamel plaques could well have left Prüm to enter the art market at about the same date (information Norbert Jopek). For the abbey, see also Dr H. Forst, Geschichte der Abtei Prüm von der Gründung im Jahre 721 bis zur Aufhebung im Jahre 1802, in ‘Bonner Jahrbücher’, 122,1912, pp. 98-110.
Rainer Kahsnitz, in an unpublished lecture to the fifth British Museum Medieval Enamel Colloquium in 1982, explored the relationship between the seven plaques and proposed a reconstruction of their setting as parts of quatrefoil phylacteries. His reconstruction has been in part followed here. Chapman 1980 published the three British Museum Old Testament plaques with the Trier plaque laid out around a square central field, and she also discussed the iconography and style of the plaques. Since Kötzsche 1973 (a) and Morgan 1973, there has in fact been unanimity that the semicircular shape of the plaques argues strongly in favour of their origin as part of more than one quatrefoil phylactery: ‘phylacteria’ was one of the words employed in the Middle Ages (e.g. by Durandus ‘Rationale’, 1, 3, 26) and its English derivative is still widely used to apply to small containers for relics, and particularly to the pendant centrally planned two-sided reliquaries which were fashionable in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, particularly in the Mosan region. For this type of reliquary, see, above all, the chapter 'Scheibenförmige Reliquiare', in Joseph Braun, ‘Die Reliquiare des christlichen Kultes und ihre Entwicklung’, Freiburg im Br., 1940, pp. 295-300, pls 283-90.
The following twelfth-century Mosan enamelled phylacteries with figures are known: one with scenes relating to St John, in the State Hermitage, St Petersburg (a second phylactery in St Petersburg seems to be a nineteenth-century pastiche); one with scenes of the Legend of the True Cross, now lost, probably from the abbey of Lobbes, near Mons, and at one time in the Evêché at Tournai; one with the Virgin Mary surrounded by Virtues in Cleveland; four remounted plaques from a phylactery with Virtues combating Vices in the Musée de Breuil, Langres; one with enigmatic scenes in Lille (of doubtful authenticity); one partially preserved in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (Inv. 7318), with scenes relating to the Last Judgement; one reused on a later foot, with the Evangelists, in Lyon; three in Namur, in the Musée des Arts Anciens du Namurois, one of which comes from the abbey of Waulsort, all with Virtues, angels or saints around a central christological image or relic (a fourth phylactery in Namur, in the Musée Diocesain, from a private collection at St-Gérard, has only foliage enamels). There are also several polylobed Mosan phylacteries with enamels, with purely decorative ornament and inscriptions, though these are mostly of the first half of the thirteenth century (Taburet-Delahaye 1989, pp. 52-3 (no. 8)).
Kahsnitz, from his analysis of the surviving Mosan figured phylacteries, came to the conclusion that the four Old Testament plaques did not form part of the same object as the Evangelist plaques; the seven plaques must come from a pair of coeval phylacteries. The Old Testament plaques made up the four sides around a central square field. Their subject-matter is 'typological' of Christ on the cross (for which see registration no. 1856,0718.1). Therefore an image of Christ in enamel could have decorated the centre of the phylactery, and a relic of the True Cross or a relic of Christ was probably the raison d’etre of the phylactery (for True Cross relics at Prüm, see above). Since surviving Mosan phylacteries are only enamelled on the front (see e.g. the three phylacteries in Namur), here the back was probably embellished either with ornamental engraving or with ‘vernis brun’ patterns. The closest parallel with the suggested layout of the front is a phylactery in St Petersburg. This has been used as a basis for the schematic reconstruction proposed here in pi. 61 (for the St Petersburg phylactery, formerly in the Basilewsky collection, see Lapkovskaya 1971, nos 8-9; Lafontaine-Dosogne 1975, pp. 91-4 (no. z)). As for the 'typological' subject-matter, no enamelled Mosan phylactery survives with such scenes, although they are common on crosses (see registration no. 1856,0718.1); and some semicircular plaques in the Cathedral Treasury of Troyes could have come from a similar 'typological' phylactery (see Verdier 1966-7, pp. 23-4 (fig. 7)). A Mosan phylactery with enamels of the Legend of the True Cross, which was published in 1880 in a coloured engraving and was thought to come from the great Benedictine abbey of Lobbes, is now apparently lost; although it was restored in certain details (e.g. the small corner lobes between the enamels), it also helps towards a visual reconstruction of the Prüm phylactery; its subject-matter was designed to decorate an object which still contained in 1880 several relics of the True Cross in the square central field, displayed beneath glass; its back was decorated with ornamental panels of ‘vernis brun’, surrounding an engraved image of the Hand of God (van Bastalaer 1880 - for the iconography of the True Cross legend, see registration no. 1856,0718.1). Given that the four enamel plaques of the Lobbes phylactery had unbeaded inner edges and enamelled frames, it is tempting to suggest that they were made by the same workshop as the British Museum-Trier phylactery.
For the three surviving Evangelist plaques in London and Nürnberg, Kahsnitz proposed an origin as part of a second phylactery of slightly smaller dimensions, again perhaps of the form of the St Petersburg phylactery. The Evangelists would have surrounded a central enamel plaque of Christ in Majesty, their symbols either in the corners of the central square field around the Christ enamel or engraved on the lobed angles between the semicircular fields of the Evangelist plaques; again the back would have been purely ornamental, either engraved or in ‘vernis brun’. No precisely similar Evangelist phylactery appears to have survived, although the Lyon phylactery has the four Evangelists writing the Gospels on crescent-shaped plaques around a central relic. For the Lyon phylactery, see the engraving in ‘Gazette des Beaux-Arts’, 20ème année – 2ème période, XVIII, 1878, p. 573, when it was in the Odiot collection. See also Catalogue ‘Society of Arts’ 1850, p. 40 (no. 319), where a quatrefoil phylactery is described with four semicircular enamels of the Evangelists surrounding a lozenge in the centre with the figure of Christ; it was the property of John Swaby, esq., of Fortis Terrace, and its present whereabouts are unknown, unless the 1850 cataloguer, Franks, was mistaken in his identification of the Evangelists and he was in fact describing the Hermitage phylactery; or unless the Swaby phylactery was broken up after 1850, and produced the London and Nürnberg plaques, a possible scenario given their subsequent appearance in the Octavius Morgan and Beresford Hope collections (the Museum's typological plaques were in this case also with Swaby but not exhibited in 1850).
Kahsnitz did not rule out another possibility, namely that the Evangelist plaques came not from a phylactery but from the centre of a larger piece of church furniture, such as a retable (as formerly at Stavelot) or a gable (see the reliquary from Maastricht, Catalogue ‘Rhein und Maas’ 1972, I, p. 247, ill. opp. p. 260; Kroos 1985, pp. 248-53). It is more probable however that the seven surviving plaques do indeed represent the remains of a pair of coeval phylacteries. The absolute similarity of technique and style, and the identical restoration techniques used on 1888,1110.6 and 1888,1110.5, prove beyond question that the typological series and the Evangelist plaques were made together, and subsequently lived in the closest possible proximity to one another. This must have been at Prüm.
The iconography of the different scenes on the seven surviving plaques places them firmly within the tradition of Mosan art of the third quarter of the twelfth century. For a discussion of individual scenes, see: (Sacrifice of Isaac) Squilbeck 1965; Chapman 1980, pp. 45-9; (Moses and the Brazen Serpent) see registration nos. 1856,0718.1 and 1888,0627.1; (Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph) Chapman 1980, passim, partic. Appendix III; (Tau-marker) Verdier 1966/1967; Chapman 1980, pp. 47-8; (Writing Evangelists) Morgan 1973, pp. 269-70.
The Evangelists are most commonly associated with the decoration of book-covers. However, see also the remarkable but undated seal of the collegiate church of St-Jean at Liège (Catalogue ‘Rhein und Maas’ 1972, I, p. 55 (no. 1123)); the matrix for this seal must have been cut by a goldsmith closely associated with the workshop which made the two phylacteries. Standard compositions were used to depict such scenes in Mosan art and this implies that, not only within the workshop but from one workshop to another, common model-books were available. However, minor omissions, conflations or misunderstandings of a particular iconography cannot be used to establish a relative chronology between workshops: a full and undiluted version of a scene with all its details included could just as well be the latest as the earliest in a series of depictions. The series of seated Evangelists writing their Gospels can be found in several fuller versions, for instance on the book-cover in Darmstadt (see Catalogue ‘Rhein und Maas’ 1972, I, p. 259 (G 22); Catalogue ‘Ornamenta Ecclesiae’ 1985, II, pp. 278-81 (E 65)); this book-cover need not be earlier, just because its Evangelists are given more detailed supporting props. Again, because all scenes on one object are not depicted in an identical manner on another, it cannot be presumed that this rules out a direct workshop connection. Kahsnitz showed that the Isaac, Moses and Jacob plaques in London and Trier do not correspond closely with the same scenes on the reconstructed Mosan typological cross (for which see registration no. 1856,0718.1; Kötzsche 1973 (a), ills pp. 208-9; Catalogue ‘Die Zeit der Staufer’ 1977, I, pp. 414-17 (no. 550); II, pls 343-9). However, in the case of the Tau-marker, the plaque in Stuttgart from the typological cross is indeed a close relative. In the case of the British Museum St John, it is a reduced version of the Louvre St Luke from the same typological cross. When these iconographic similarities are taken in conjunction with a stylistic and technical comparison between the phylactery plaques and the cross, then it becomes very probable that the same workshop produced both the plaques and the cross. Only the two Evangelist plaques in Nürnberg are different in style, executed, as Kahsnitz pointed out, in a more monumental mode. As to the typological cross in the British Museum (1856,0718.1), it too possesses the same technical vocabulary as these phylactery plaques: there is the same approach to the champlevé cutting; the same glasses are used (with the exception of a greener turquoise on the cross); and the same distribution of glasses is adopted, for instance, the combinations used for the enamelled frames, haloes and draperies are repeated exactly (deep blue/green/ yellow, and variations of deep blue/pale blue/white, and of blues and turquoise); the employment of opaque red for accents is also comparable. On the other hand, the firing does not show the same skill in modulating the colours as on the cross, where the blending of the glasses is subtler (from blue to white through paler blues, or from green to yellow through paler greens). The list of surviving works of the so-called Stavelot Triptych workshop as presented by Brodsky 1978 and Chapman 1980 (pp. 47-8, 54) and expanded by Verdier 1981 (p. 25) can be argued about in detail, but there can be no doubt about the central place occupied in the workshop's output by the two typological crosses of which 1856,0718.1 is one; the pair of phylacteries (these objects), which apparently come from Prüm, are lesser achievements but undoubtedly from this same Mosan workshop.
Catalogue, Leeds, 1868, no 984.
Irsch, Der Dom zu Trier, Die Kunstdenkmäler der Rheinprovinz, 1931, vol. 13 (I), p376 (Inv. nr 39).
Catalogue Ars Sacra, 1950, p129 (no292).
Squilbeck, Le sacrifice d'Abraham dans l'art mosan, Bulletin des Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, 1965, 4th Series, Issue 37, pp90-2, fig9.
Kuhn, Zur Geschichte des Trierer und des Limburger Domschatzes. Die Pretiosenüberlieferung aus dem Linksrheinschen Erzstift Trier seit 1792, Archiv für Mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte, 1976, vol. 28, p173.
Rainer Kahsnitz, Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg. Fuhrer durch die Sammlungen, 1977, p37(no 36-col. ill).
Ronig, Catalogue Schatzkunst Trier, 1984, p114 (no45).
Kahsnitz, Anzeiger des Germanischen National-museums, 1992.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Presented by A. W. Franks in 1888. Previously in the collection of Octavius Swinnerton Morgan, MP (1803-88).
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number