The Gloucester Candlestick

 

Provenance

The inscription around the inside of the drip pan reads 'Thomas Pociencis gave this to the Church of Le Mans when the sun renewed the year'. Little is known about Thomas of Poché (a parish in the Diocese of Le Mans), but we do know that the candlestick was in the treasury of Le Mans Cathedral until the 19th century. No historical documentation has been found as to how Thomas acquired it and when he presented it to the church, though certain historical events offer some suggestions.

On 8 March 1122 St Peter's Abbey was destroyed by fire. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that only a few books and three vestments survived intact. Was the candlestick looted during this fire? Or perhaps it was not counted among the surviving objects because it had already left the Church of St Peter? The Romanesque Church of Le Mans had been dedicated only two years earlier and the candlestick, a high quality example of Romanesque art, would have been a rich and fitting gift for the new church.

During the reign of Abbot Foliot (1139–48) a Welsh raid looted over 300 marks' worth of goods from the Abbey. Foliot's letters demonstrate that he intended to supplicate the Welsh princes in the hope of securing the return of some of these possessions. Was the Gloucester Candlestick one of the stolen items?

In 1194 and 1210 St Peter's Abbey was forced to sell plate, silver chalices and even horses to raise money for taxes. Was the candlestick amongst them? By the late 12th century this Romanesque object would have been out of style with the Gothic fashions of the day and might have been considered suitable for sale. The candlestick's symbolism, with its references to light and the virtue of holy doctrine, may explain why someone would want to buy it. A Gothic extension to the Church of Le Mans was finished in 1254, and the relics of St Julien brought there. The community processed through the building carrying torches and candles signifying the light of faith within their hearts. The donation of the candlestick to Le Mans at this time could have symbolised Thomas of Poché's part in the congregation and the celebration of light.

Cloister Garth, the Benedictine Abbey of St Peter, Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucestershire, England, UK. Photograph © Gloucester Cathedral.

Cloister Garth, the Benedictine Abbey of St Peter, Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucestershire, England, UK. Photograph © Gloucester Cathedral.

Cathedral of St Julien, Le Mans, France. Photograph © Photographies Gilles KERVELLA / éditions de la Reinette.

Cathedral of St Julien, Le Mans, France. Photograph © Photographies Gilles KERVELLA / éditions de la Reinette.

Manufacture

Casting

The candlestick was cast in three parts, using the lost wax method. A recent sample casting shows how this may have been done. The base, stem and drip pan were modelled separately in wax. Much of the detailing of the figures would have been formed in the wax, to be finished once the casting was complete. Wax sprues, known as runners and risers, were attached to the models in strategic places. These created channels to enable the flow of the metal to the mould and the escape of gases during casting.

Construction

On its arrival at the V&A in 1861, the candlestick was held together by two pieces of gilded copper tubing slotted inside it. Study of the candlestick’s interior revealed that its sections were originally joined in a different way: prongs on the base slotted into recesses in the stem, locking the sections together. Discreet marks aided the assembly of the object. The top of the stem has similar recesses, though the drip pan shows no evidence of prongs and has no assembly marks.

The original fixings allowed light to pass through the entire candlestick, emphasising its openwork decoration. They may have failed under the pressure of frequent movement or disassembly, and the copper tubing inserted, effectively ‘removing’ the openwork and creating instead a raised relief. Analysis was carried out to measure the chemical composition of the copper tubing to try and discover how and when the candlestick might have been repaired. Energy Dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) was used, which does not damage the object’s surface. The elements found in the metal are comparable to those in other medieval examples, suggesting that the tubing might be an early repair. These elements and impurities are, however, also found in later objects. Curators decided to display the object in the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries as it was originally intended to be seen (minus the copper tubing), showcasing the complex openwork form of the candlestick for the first time in over a hundred years.

Recommended reading

Borg, A, The Gloucester Candlestick, Medieval Art and Architecture at Gloucester and Tewksbury, British Archaeological Association, 7 (1985), 84-92 (p.88)

Brownsword, R, Pitt, EEH, and Wilkin, J, A Technical Note on the Gloucester Candlestick, Medieval Art and Architecture at Gloucester and Tewksbury, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 7, (1985), 168-170

Harris, A, A Romanesque Candlestick in London, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 27 (1964), 32-62

Oman, C, The Gloucester Candlestick, Victoria and Albert Museum Monographs, 11 (1958) 1-14

Sydenham, C, Translating the Gloucester Candlestick, The Burlington Magazine, 126, no. 977, (1984), 504

Viegas-Wesolowska, C and Seavers, S, The Gloucester Candlestick: Work in Progress, Journal of the Antique Metalware Society, vol. 16, 2008, 52-9

A gift in your will

You may not have thought of including a gift to a museum in your will, but the V&A is a charity and legacies form an important source of funding for our work. It is not just the great collectors and the wealthy who leave legacies to the V&A. Legacies of all sizes, large and small, make a real difference to what we can do and your support can help ensure that future generations enjoy the V&A as much as you have.

More

Event - Early Medieval: 300-1250: 14/15

Fri 26 September 2014–Fri 17 July 2015

YEAR COURSE: Celebrate the Museum’s world-class early medieval collection. Spanning the period from the fourth to the mid 13th-century, the course covers the rise of Christianity in the East and West, and demonstrates how patrons and artists of the early Middle Ages transformed Classical principles to meet the aspirations of the new world order.

Book online