University Scepter

Date: early 15th century (1419? with alterations after 1478)

Geography: Made in possibly Rostock or Lübeck, Germany

Culture: North German

Medium: Silver and silver gilt on an iron core

Dimensions: Overall: 57 9/16 x 2 3/16 in. (146.2 x 5.6 cm)
Head of scepter: 4 15/16 x 2 3/16 in. (12.6 x 5.6 cm)
bottom knop: 5 11/16 x 1 5/16 in. (14.5 x 3.3 cm)
shaft diameter: 3/8 in. (1 cm)
shaft knop diameter: 13/16 in. (2 cm)

Classification: Metalwork-Silver

Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 2011

Accession Number: 2011.358


A commanding symbol of secular authority, this attenuated but elegantly proportioned scepter is a rare survivor of medieval ceremony. Most scepters of this type, tall with a foliate head, are connected with universities. Made throughout the Middle Ages, generally in pairs, these scepters were carried at the head of academic processions and signified the authority of the university faculty with which they were associated. This scepter is thought to have belonged to one of three pairs made for the three faculties of the University of Rostock when it was founded in 1419. Its probably mate, much altered, is now in the St. Annen-Museum in Lübeck. Both may have been brought to Lübeck when the University of Rostock moved there briefly in the fifteenth century. The engraving on the handle of this scepter states that it was given in penance by the town council to the cathedral chapter of Lübeck in 1478. The circumstances of the gift are unknown, but it is probably that the heraldic shield with the arms of the bishopric of Lübeck and the figure of Saint John the Baptist, one of the patron saints of the cathedral, were added at this time.