Medieval & Renaissance Europe, 1000-1200
Candlestick (known as the Gloucester Candlestick)
Cast metal alloy, gilt
Museum No. 7649-1861
This elaborate metal candlestick reflects the extremely high level of skill of the craftsperson, probably a goldsmith, who made it. The dense decoration is formed of wonderful figures and apes interspersed between thick intertwined shoots of foliage. Three long-eared dragons with outspread wings form the supporting feet.
There are three inscriptions in Latin. The one on the stem, above and below the central knop (or knob) refers to the donation of the candlestick and reads: 'The devotion of abbot Peter and his gentle flock gave me to the church of St Peter at Gloucester'. This must refer to what is now Gloucester Cathedral, but which was then a Benedictine monastery where there was an abbot named Peter between 1104-1113.
Ewer (or aquamanile)
Gilt bronze, cast and chased, decorated with silver and niello
Museum No. 1471-1870
Ewers (or aquamanilia) were used both in the home and in church for the washing of hands. They frequently took the shape of real or fantastic creatures. Here the beast most closely resembles a griffin, an animal that combines elements from an eagle and a lion. The mouth acts as the spout: the vessel was filled through a hole in the tail.
The beast shown here owes its form to representations of griffin-like creatures known as 'senmurvs'. Images of these animals were depicted on silk textiles that were imported into north-western Europe from the east. This ewer, therefore, highlights the artistic and trading links between east and west.
Relief with Saint Philip, Saint Jude and Saint Batholomew
From the Cathedral of Vich, Spain
Height 81.4cm x width 63.4cm
Museum no. A.49-1932
The three figures can be identified because the books they are holding are inscribed with the Latin versions of their names. Saint Philip, Saint Jude and Saint Bartholomew were all Apostles, followers of Christ in the 1st century AD. The halos behind their heads are used to indicate their holiness. The linear carving of the beards, hair and drapery are distinctive qualities of sculpture of this period. The irises of the eyes of the three figures have been filled with lead plugs.
This sculpture originally formed part of the decoration of the west front of the Cathedral of Saint Peter at Vich, about 40 miles north of Barcelona in Spain. The cathedral was destroyed in 1791.
Carved rock crystal
Height 19.5 cm x diameter 9 cm (of base)
Museum No. 7904-1862
This rock crystal ewer is one of only six that survived in princely collections and church treasuries in Italy and France. Originally, though, these high-quality rock crystal objects had been made for the Fatimid caliphs who ruled Egypt between 969 and 1171. Their names and those of high officials appear in Arabic inscriptions on some examples. By the 1060s, many thousands of rock crystals had been accumulated in the Fatimid treasury in Cairo, but then there was a financial crisis, and the caliph's troops raided his treasury. The soldiers sold their loot on the market, and some was bought eagerly by merchants from Europe, where nothing like the rock crystals had been seen.
Great skill was required to hollow out the transparent, crystalline stone without breaking it, and to carve the delicate decoration. In some places, the rock crystal is barely more than a millimetre thick. The shape and decoration are related to those of Islamic ewers made in precious metal and cut glass, and in its original state the rock crystal ewer probably had gold or silver mounts. The motif of a bird of prey attacking an antelope, which had long been used to symbolize royal power, occurs on both sides of the body and is framed by a scrollwork arranged as a tree and set with stylized leaves.
St Nicholas Crozier
Winchester, England (probably)
1150 - 1170
Width 11 cm x height 12 cm
Museum No. 218-1865
Bishops, and sometimes abbots, carry a crozier as a symbol of office. It resembles the crook used by a shepherd when looking after his flock. This crozier shows scenes relating to Jesus Christ and St Nicholas. At the end of the volute (or scroll) an angel supports the Lamb of God, a symbolic image of Christ. Its head is now missing. On the other side is the Nativity (or birth) of Christ. Angels appear to shepherds and announce Christ's birth on one side of the shaft.
The rest of the crozier shows three scenes from the Life of St Nicholas. According to tradition, St Nicholas was Bishop of Myra, a town in Asia Minor, in the late Roman period. The first scene depicts his birth. The choice of scenes suggests that the crozier was made for a bishop or abbot who was either named after the saint or in charge of a foundation (cathedral or monastery) dedicated to him. This crozier is one of the finest achievements of the ivory carver's art.
The Becket Casket
Gilt copper and champlevé enamel on a wooden core
Width 11.4cm x height 29.9cm
Museum no. M.66-1997
This casket was probably designed to hold relics (or sacred objects) of the murdered Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket (1118-1170). Becket's murder in his own cathedral on 29 December 1170, by four knights in the service of King Henry II (r.1154-1189), provoked outrage throughout Europe. Becket was made a saint in 1173, and his shrine at Canterbury became one of the most famous in Europe.
This casket depicts the murder of Becket, his burial, and the raising of his soul to heaven. It is one of the most elaborate, the largest, and possibly the earliest in date to survive. Becket was a popular saint and he is represented on many other surviving medieval objects.