German Romanesque engraved bronze bowl

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Possibly Saxony, Germany
12th century
5 cm
26 cm

Müller, Gravierte romanische Bronzeschalen und Schachfiguren des 11./12. Jahrhunderts, in: Archäologie des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit 9.1998, p. 39 ff., illus. of this type p. 41.
Weitzmann-Fiedler, Romanische gravierte Bronzeschalen, Berlin 1981.
Müller, Zwischen Gebrauch und Bedeutung: Studien zur Funktion von Sachkultur am Beispiel mittelalterlichen Handwaschgeschirrs, Bonn 2006.
Middeleeuwse hanzeschotels, Spiegel tot lering, Nijmeegs Museum Feb. 1979, Commanderie van Sint Jan


Two other identically wrought pieces with female allegories of vices in The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, inv. no. 65.89. and the Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg (in: Mende, Die mittelalterlichen Bronzen, Nuremberg 2013, no. 100).


Acquired from a collection in London in the 1940/1950s; subsequent in family ownership

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Copper alloy with dark brown patina and verdigris, localised remnants of former gilding.

A beaten metal dish with flat well, concave sides and everted rim. Engraved décor throughout the well with a male bust facing right in the centre framed by a stylised double border. Further male busts arranged radially around the central figure with engraved inscriptions in Romanesque minuscule reading: "IDOL(A)TRIA" (idolatry), "INVIDIA" (envy), and "IRA" (rage), many of the letters accentuated by double lines. The sides with three large foliate motifs and further illegible inscriptions.

Metallurgical analysis by Dr. Brian Gilmour, Oxford, dated 3rd January 2018.

This dish belongs to a group of early works known as “Hansa bowls”. This term is applied to bronze or copper vessels from the 12th to 13th centuries which, due to accounts in medieval manuscripts, were brought into connection with the Hanseatic League. They generally originate from the region dominated by the trade between the free cities of the Hanseatic League, which reached from the Baltic Sea to the Lower Rhine and across to England. However, the name “Hansa bowls” has been obsolete since the appearance of a publication by the legendary art historian Weitzmann-Fiedler in 1981 which proved that the vessels could not be brought into connection with the Hanseatic cities.  This work belongs to a group of bowls with representations of the vices. It is interesting to note that “idolatria”, which is accentuated here, does not belong to the traditional canon of seven Christian cardinal vices. Ulrich describes this type as “dishes with incorrect iconography or even erroneous inscriptions”. He proposes that the dishes, used as hand washing bowls, were not only intended to express social prestige but also to transmit basic religious knowledge. “The themes of good and evil were present in everyday sermons. The washing of hands appears to have (…) offered the opportunity to introduce these topics to the user during meals, or perhaps during greetings and farewells.” (ibid. p. 42)


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