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The Royal Gold Cup

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • The Royal Gold Cup
  • Description

    The Royal Gold Cup, made of solid gold; enamelled; comprising bowl, lid and stem; the lid decorated in basse taille enamel with scenes leading to and the martyrdom of St Agnes; the bowl decorated similarly with scenes from the history of St Agnes after her death; the inside of the lid set with a basse taille circular medallion of Christ blessing; the inside of the bowl set with a basse taille circular medallion of St Agnes receiving instruction at school.; the stem enamelled in basse taille with the symbols of the Evangelists and their scrolls; the rim of the foot decorated with openwork foliate cresting and pearls; the lid missing its finial and decorative band around the rim; the stem extended twice; once with a band of Tudor roses in opaque enamel; further with a band with Latin inscription [see inscription]


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1370-1380 (circa)
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 236 millimetres
    • Diameter: 178 millimetres (cup)
    • Diameter: 102 millimetres (foot)
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

      • Inscription Language

      • Inscription Content

      • Inscription Translation

        "This cup of solid gold, a remnant of the sacred treasure of England and a memorial to the peace made between the kings, was given to Christ the Peacemaker by Juan de Velasco, constable, returning thence on the successful conclusion of affairs."
      • Inscription Comment

        Translated with the assistance of Clive Cheesman, Jonathan Williams and Barrie Cook
  • Curator's comments

    Lightbown, Secular Goldsmiths' Work in Medieval France: A History, Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London vol. XXXVI, 1978, pp75-82; plLXI; LXii; LXIII; LXIV; LXV; LXVI; LXVII; LXVIII.
    Read, The Royal Gold Cup of the King of France and England, now preserved in the British Museum, Vestuta Monumenta, 1904

    Text from Lightbown 1978 (see above):
    'Perhaps we may best close this chapter by examining the one surviving royal magnificence of the International Gothic age, the Royal Gold Cup, more properly described as a "hanap" (pls. LXI-LXVIII). The techniques used in making and decorating it were established by a special study in 1951. The cover, bowl and foot are all made in two parts, an outer enamelled part and an inner, plain part. The inner dome of the lid has a high rim decorated with a narrow moulding into which the enammelled upper dome is fitted. The underside of the plain gold dome has a series of hammer marks in concentric circles. The ground was prepared for enamelling by drawing the outlines and then going over them with a tracer (a small chisel with a blunt edge driven by a hammer). The ground within the outlines was then recessed, entirely by the use of the chaser except in the ground beneath the figures and in the trees, where a difference of texture was obtained by cutting flat facets in slightly varied directions. Traces of tool marks from the figures were removed by a final scraping: an examination of the inner side of the enamelled part of the cover showed that it too had been scraped smooth of the ridges thrown up by the chasing of the other side.
    The lid and bowl of the "hanap" (pls. LXIV-LXVI) are enamelled with the first part of the history of St Agnes and of her foster-sister St Emerentiana, Roman girls martyrs of the age of Constantine. Agnes was the favourite medieval type of young girl virgin. The source of the scene was evidently the "Legenda Aurea" of Jacobus de Voragine, either directly or in a slightly amplified version. Not only are there correspondence between the words of the "Legenda" and three of the inscriptions which assist the narrative but the sequence of the narrative is exactly as given by Jacobus. The scenes on the lid (pl. LXIV) represent the events leading to the martyrdom of Agnes. In the first the saint, returning from school with her foster-sister, and attended by her emblem, the lamb, is accosted by a young nobleman who has fallen in love with her and tries to bribe her into becoming his wife by offering her a casket of jewels. The "Legenda", it should be said makes no mention of the presence of Emerentiana, and merely relates that the youth promised Agnes jewels and riches innumerable. She rejects him with the words of the inscription, "Illi sum desponsata cui angeli serviunt" (I am betrothed to him who the angels serve), which is partly taken from the "Legenda". Behind the youth stands his father, the prefect of Rome. The next scene shows the saint standing before the brothel to which the prefect has consigned her after she has declared that she is a Christian and has refused to sacrificed to Vesta. The youth, having attempted to rape her, lies dead on the ground smothered by the devil who lurks behind his body. His grief-stricken father stands at his head. The inscription "Quo modo cecidisti qui mane oriebaris (How has thou fallen that risest in the morning) is taken from Isaiah xiv.12, where it refers to Lucifer. In the next scene touched by the prefect's plea , restores his son to life and bids him go and sin no more: "Vade amplius noli peccare" (John viii. II, Christ's words to the woman taken in adultery). The youth is converted - a change visible in his attitude of prayer - and preaches the faith. Incensed by this the pagan priests accuse Agnes of witchcraft. She is brought before the prefect and his vicar Aspasius. The prefect, who has seen the miracle, declares in words from Luke xxiii.4 that he finds no case against her (Nichil invenio cause in eam), but fearing that proscription may fall on his own head, departs and leaves her to Aspasius, who orders her to be burnt in a great fire. The last scene shows her martyrdom. She has been thrown into the flames, which part themselves from her and refuse to consume her. Aspasius orders the executioner to plunde a lance (in the "Legenda" a sword) into her throat: she dies commending her soul to God (IN manus tuas domine commendo animam meam) in words taken from Luke xxxiii.46.
    The bowl continues the history of the saint after her death. In the first scene (pl. LXVa) we see her exequies. A pall is laid over her tomb, while a priest, attended by an acolyte holding a cross, asperges it. On one side is St Emerentiana in prayer, on the other Agnes' mother in an attitude of mourning. The inscription reads: "Ecce quod concupivi iam teneo" (Behold what I have desired I now possess). But the burial group is stoned by pagans, and all flee except for Emerentiana, who stoutly remains by the tomb and denounces the works of the pagans. The second scene (pl. LXVb) shows Emerentiana being stoned to death by three pagans as the penalty of her constancy. The inscription reads: "Veni soror mea mecum in gloria" (Come with me my sister into glory). In the next scene (pl. LXVIa) Agnes and Emerentiana together with two other virgin martyrs appear on the eighth day after her death to Emerentiana's parents as they watch by Agnes' tomb, where Emerentiana's body has also been laid. Agnes invites them to rejoice with her in the words "Gaudete mecum" (in the "Legenda" her words to them include the phrase "Congaudete mecum"). The princess Constantia, daughter of the Emperor Constantine, who is suffering greviously from leprosy, hears of this vision and comes to the saint's tomb, and while praying there, falls into a slumber (pl. LXVIb). As she sleeps she has a vision of Agnes who tells her that if she believes in Christ she will be cured: "Si in xpm (Christum) credideris sanaberis" (the "Legenda" says "Constanter age Constantia, si in Christum credideris, continuo liberaberis"). The princess, cured and baptized, tells her father the Emperor of her vision. The inscription reads: "Hec est virgo sapiens una de numero prudencium" (This is a wise virgin, one of the number of the prudent).
    The scenes are unified by the ancient device of a continuous ground. On the lid they are separated from each other by naturalistic rocks rising at intervals to form compartments. On the bowl trees are used for this purpose as they were on the goblet decorated with trees and deer that belonged to Louis of Anjou. The principal colours on the lid are a deep luminous red and a deep blue set off against each other by counterchanging, though unity of effect is maintained by their repetition. On the bowl these two share the honours with a third colour, which varies from ash-grey to purplish blue. The trees and the martyrs' palms are executed in a brilliant green. The hair of the saints is yellow, and some detail of costume like the upturned edges of Aspasius' robe are also rendered in this colour. The styalized building that represents the brothel is executed in bluish grey, the interior being indicated by the use of dark blue. The open box of jewels is rendered in an opaque white enamel; all the other colours are translucent.
    Every opportunity has been taken to exploit the pictoral possibilities of translucent enamel. Flesh is executed in colourless enamel ("flux"), which naturally darkens over the recesses of the sunk ground, producing rounded and firmly outlined heads, in which the gold ground and slight natural opacity of the enamel combine to produce smooth flesh colour. The rocks and grassy soil are rendered with painterly skill and naturalism by an artful use of the technique of tinging colourless enamel. In the rocks, the surfaces on which light falls are rendered in colourless enamel, delicately tinged in places with green, while the surfaces in shadow are not only more deeply sunk, but filled with either a bluish grey enamel or with a transparent enamel tinged in the shadows with blackish brown. Again, the soil consists of areas tinged green contrasting with otheres lightly tinged with grey. The tendency of the tinged areas to spread in firing and fuse irregularly yet smoothly with surrounding parts ensures a persuasive natrualism of effect. The same technique is applied to drapery, particularly the draperies of the bowl, where the ash-grey to purplish blue colour has been employed. Here by tinging and modelling of the ground a soft mobility is attained: for instance in the cloak worn by Emerentiana's mother in the scene of the Saint's apparition a more transparent grey has been employed over a shallower ground to create highlighting on the head and sleeve.
    These divices soften but do not impair the resonance of the blue and red which are the principal colours. Yet even in these, shading is obtained by sinking the ground to different depths, as in the drapery, where the ridge of each fold is near the surface, so producing highlights along them. Here too then the artistic faith of International Gothic painting in soft and smooth but strong alternations of deep shadow and bright light is strictly maintained. The firm outlines of the metal are equivalent to the firmly drawn lines of an illumination - indeed the two techniques of minature and "basse-taille" enamelling are here parallel in their intentions and limitations. The balance between naturalism and decorativeness in the enamelling is not disturbed by the foliated motifs in the "pointillé" that fill the gold background. By the sensitive use of so reticent a technique the glod surface is delicately varied to the close inspecting eye without usurping any of the dominance that belongs to the enamelled motifs.
    The inside of the lid is set with an enamelled circular medallion of Christ blessing, wearing a blue robe and a grey cloak, and holding a chalice containing a wafer in opaque white enamel (pl. LXVIIa). Round him is a flaming aureole of translucent red; the ground under the enamel is hatched, so creating multipal lines of light which change as the lid is tilted different ways. The medallion is held by a mount whose serrated edge is bent over: the whole is attached to cast circular plaque whose sunk border is decorated with rosettes in relief. Christ looks down in blessing on the scene represented in another enamelled medallion set at the bottom of the bowl (pl. LXVIIb). Here St Agnes kneels before her schoolmaster, holding a book inscribed "Miserere mei Deus sancte" (Have pity on me, Holy God), while a scroll declares "In corde meo abscondi eloquia tua ut non peccem tibi" (Thy words have I his in my heart that I might not sin against thee. Ps. 119.II). The tessellated floor is rendered so as to suggest spatial recession, unlike the scenes on the outside, which are rendered on one plane, evidently for decorative reasons. This device of using a tessellated floor to indicate spatial recession, originally Sienese, is first found in France in a miniature by Jean Bondol of 1371 in The Hague Bible. Such an optical effect of recession is ingeniously charming to an eye looking down into the bowl to see the scene at the bottom. The robes of both figures are red: the cloak of the teacher is bluish outside and grey inside, while his chaperon is green outside and brown inside. The chair is tinged rather than coloured with brown. It should be noted that the rim of the bowl has a narrow hammered border, so providing yet another contrast of surface.
    With the symbols of the Evangelists (pl.LXVIII) round the stem of the cup we revert to a more decorative treatment. Again unity is given by a band of green soil. The symbols are not disposed in stiff heraldic isolation, but in conversing pairs - another sign of care for naturalistic effect. The eagle, lion and bull are tinged from brown to dark brown while the angel wears a blue robe with yellow upturned edges and a yellow collar. The stem of the cup is not made in one with the foot. This is separately made and attached to the stem by a ring of cast creasting - a crenellation of foliage - set with pearls. The architectural bias of gothic plate design is probably responsible for this feature, though it may also conceal the technical desirability of enamelling as small a surface as possible by permitting the resolution of stem and foot into two units. Finally, as every writer on the Royal Gold Cup has noted, the two rings which were added in later times, one in England during the sixteenth century, one in Spain during the early seventeenth, distort the form by elongating the foot to excess. Its original fourteenth-century shape was of a typically robust and stocky elegance.
    The mixture of quotations from the Bible and from the "Legenda Aurea" indicate that the decoration of the "hanap" - which incidently is much too heavy ever to have been intended as a functional object - was probably devised by a cleric working in collaboration with the designer. About the date and origin of the "hanap" there has been much speculation. It has been convincingly identified with a "hanap" mentioned in an inventory taken in 1391 of the plate of King Charles VI. This "hanap" had a lid, was enamelled "well and richly" on the outside with the history of St Agnes, and had a "souaige" (crenellation) on the foot garnished with 26 pearls, a "couronne" (cresting) round the edge of the lid garnished with 36 pearls, and a knob on the lid garnished with four sapphires, three balases and 15 pearls. It stood on a tripod stand, also of gold, enamelled in the centre "Our Lady in a sun on clear red". The three feet of the tripod had the common form of flying serpants. This "hanap" is said in the same inventory to have been given by Jean, Duc de Berry, to the King during Charles's journey of 1391 into Touraine. The cresting and knob are now missing, but one significant detail confirms that the "hanap" of the 1391 inventory and the Royal Gold Cup must be one and the same. Besides the general correspondence between the Royal Gold Cup and the "hanap" described in the inventory, there are still 26 pearls set in the cresting of the base of the Royal Gold Cup, as there were on the base of the 1391 "hanap".
    Far from convincing on the other hand is this hypothesis, first put forward by Delisle and Read, that the "hanap" was originally commissioned by the Duke as a birthday gift for his brother Charles V, who was born on St Agnes Day (21 January) and so had special devotion to the saint - he owned at least 13 works of art - religious and secular, in which she figured, including a gold cup enamelled with her history. According to advocates of this origin of the Royal Gold Cup, it was probably commissioned by the Duke in 1380 as a gift for presentation to Charles on St Agnes Day, 1381, but was never given to the King because of his death in September 1380. This explanation satisfies every criterion of plausibility except those of costume and style. The details of costume and hair-style are typical of 1390s rather than 1380. And from a glance through Meiss's "French painting in the time of Jean de Berry" it can be seen that in 1380 figure-style was a softly undulating, flowing style, with slender elongated figures and much use of serpentine or curving folds in the drapery, and with trailinf dresses ending in sinuous Gothic hem-lines. The figures on the cup are broad, some might even be called stocky, with soft drapery of cylindrical form, or of smooth, tight outlines. The folds are tubular and the hems of the robes are straight with no waving, trailing outlines. The style in fact is the "Italianate" manner which developed in France as a result of contact with "trecento" art, and not the purely Northern Gothic International manner. The manuscripts reproduced by Meiss in which this style is found date from c. 1400 onwards: the parallels are especially close to the minatures by the Master of the "Cité des Dames". Elements of it, in undeveloped form, appear in minatures by Jacquemart de Hesdin (cf. Meiss, fig. 193) who entered the Duc de Berry's service in 1404. The conclusion must be that the Royal Gold Cup was made in 1390, to the design, if not by hand, of an "Italianate" artist.'

    It is clear that Juan de Velasco, Constable of Castile and peace envoy to Philip III of Spain, was delighted with the cup, which he received as a peace pledge at the Somerset House Conference in 1604. He wrote that "In the evening, they came on behalf of the King to present a large silver-gilt cup which was richly enamelled, old and of great value for its great weight, for the buffet of the kings and their royal ancestors..."


  • Bibliography

    • Baron et al 1981 no213 bibliographic details
    • Bate & Thornton 2012 p. 229, fig. 21; p. 294 bibliographic details
    • Robinson 2008 p. 250 bibliographic details
    • Maryon 1952 pp56-58 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G40/dc2

  • Exhibition history

    2012 19 Jul-25 Nov, London, BM Shakespeare: Staging the World
    1981-1982 Oct-Feb, Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Les Fastes du Gothique: le Siècle de Charles V

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Associated events

    • Commemoration of: Treaty between England and Spain
  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


COMPASS Title: The Royal Gold Cup


COMPASS Title: The Royal Gold Cup

Image description



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Object reference number: MCM7869

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