Rock crystal, gilt silver, glass cabochons and pearls
Overall: 9 7/16 x 3 1/4 in. (24 x 8.2 cm)
without lid: 7 3/16 x 3 1/4 in. (18.3 x 8.2 cm)
lid only: 2 3/8 x 3 1/16 in. (6.1 x 7.8 cm)
Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913
Not on view
Rock crystal was valued most highly throughout history for its hardness and brilliant clarity. In the Middle Ages is was viewed by the Church as a symbol of unblemished purity, and thus a most appropriate material for containers of holy relics and for other ecclesiastical vessels. For kings, princes, and other high-placed persons, drinking vessels made of cut and highly-polished rock crystal and decorated with precious metals and jewels had great appeal. Various locations in Central and Western Europe have been suggested as fourteenth- and fifteenth- century centers for the cutting of crystals, including Paris, Burgundy, Prague, Nuremberg, Venice, and Freiburg im Breisgau. Rock-crystal vessels cut with a pattern of concave roundels, such as this beaker, are usually considered to be of French workmanship. The cut rock-crystal cup of the beaker is believed to be French; however, its bejeweled mounting is thought to have been executed not in France or Burgundy, but in the Upper Rhine region of Germany, possibly in Freiburg im Breisgau. A comparable beaker of rock crystal, with a silver-gilt setting studded with jewels, is seen in the painting dated 1514, by Quentin Massys, The Money Changer and His Wife. The fact that Massys’ style was frequently archaicizing in response to the vogue of the day, makes the dating for the model of this beaker around the middle of fifteenth century quite credible. Such a splendid beaker undoubtedly was intended to grace the table or sideboard of some magnificent court of the mid-fifteenth century. Its appearance in an otherwise bourgeois setting in Massys’ painting could represent a status symbol and a reminder of the great changes in social structure which had taken place in the course of a half century, when the wealthy class adopted the customs formerly associated only with the nobility. On the other hand, this beaker could represent a "pledge" left by its owner for money borrowed from the money changer.
Frédéric Spitzer (d. 1890), Paris; Benjamin Altman, New York
New York. The Cloisters Museum & Gardens. "The Secular Spirit: Life and Art at the End of the Middle Ages," March 28, 1975–June 15, 1975.
La Collection Spitzer: Antiquité, Moyen-Age, Renaissance. Vol. II. Mâcon: Imprimerie Protat Frères, 1890–1891. no. Pierres Dures 42, p. 235.
Spitzer, Frédéric, ed. La Collection Spitzer: Antiquité -- Moyen-Age -- Renaissance. Vol. 5. Paris: Maison Quantin, 1890–1893. no. Gemmes 42, p. 24.
Catalogue des objets d'art et de haute curiosité: antiques, du moyen-âge & de la renaissance, composant l'importante et précieuse Collection Spitzer. Vol. 2. Paris: Chevallier and Mannheim, April 17–June 16, 1893. no. 2634, p. 162, pl. LIX.
Husband, Timothy B., and Jane Hayward, ed. The Secular Spirit: Life and Art at the End of the Middle Ages. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975. no. 265, p. 268.