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Home > Auctions > 25th February 2020 > An Important Medieval Parcel-Gilt Loving Cup with Engraved Roundel

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LOT 0584

GBP (£) 50,000 - 70,000
EUR (€) 59,850 - 83,790
USD ($) 64,870 - 90,810

£45,000 (EUR 53,866; USD 58,380) (+bp*)

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An Important Medieval Parcel-Gilt Loving Cup with Engraved Roundel

Circa 1350 AD

A gilded sheet-silver double-cup or doppelkopf comprising two shallow bowls with rims designed to lock together and each with a curved ledge handle forming a loop upon closure; the lower cup being slightly smaller than the upper, featuring a tiered foot with carinated profile and gilt beaded rim, inset roundel to the underside with similar gilt and beaded rim and low-relief engraved scene depicting a robed lady (perhaps representing Eve in the Garden of Eden?) kneeling on her right knee to pick one of two sprays of flowers in a dense foliage field, her left hand resting on the raised left knee; the handle a curved rectangular tab with gilt incised borders; the upper cup similar in form with indented roundel to the centre, lacking the applied foot, and beaded band to the shoulder. 385 grams total, 13.5cm each (5 1/4"). Fair condition. Excessively rare, all other known examples held in museum collections. [2]

Property of a London collector; found in a gravel pit near to the River Danube, at Donauwoerth, Western Bavaria, in the 1960s; accompanied by an academic report and photographs, plus images of the other eight examples known; three found as part of treasures, and all held in museum collections.
Eight other examples of this object type are known to exist, all dating to the 14th century: one held at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; one held at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, being part of the Cloisters collection acquired in 1983; one part of the Lingenfeld Treasure, unearthed 1894 and now in the Historisches Museum der Pfatz, Speyer; one part of the Colmar Treasure, found 1863, and now held at the Musée de Cluny, Alsace; one discovered in the garden of the Seedorf Convent, found 1606, and now held at the Historisches Museum, Basel; one as part of the Erfurt Treasure, unearthed 1998, and held at the Erfurt Synagogue; one held at the National Museum, Zurich, and the last example held at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, acquired in 1960; see Treasures of the Black Death exhibition catalogue, p.72-3; also Meyer, G. L'Orfèvrerie médiévale au musée d'Unterlinden à Colmar, Cahiers alsaciens d'archéologie, d'art et d'histoire, vol.XXIV, 1981; Fritz, J.M. Goldschmiedekunst der Gotik in Mitteleuropa, Munich, 1982; Taburet-Delahaye, E. L'Orfèvrerie gothique, XIIIe-XVe siècle au musée de Cluny, Paris, 1989; and Taburet-Delahaye, E. Les Bijoux du trésor de Colmar in Le Trésor de Colmar, Paris, 1999.
The doppelkopf is a pair of vessels which fit together so that the upper serves as a cover during storage and as a second drinking vessel when removed. It is a specific type of vessel which is known to have come into use in the 14th century. The place in which they were manufactured is presently uncertain but the majority of known surviving examples were discovered in the Rhineland and Switzerland. Examples were present in both the Erfurt and Colmar treasures dating from the early 14th century. It is understood that the format of two open shallow vessels forming an enclosed space may have been copied from wooden exemplars and others in more exotic materials such as ostrich eggs or coconuts. There are illustrations of the wooden forms from Freiburg in Brisgau in Taburet-Delahaye (1999).

The significance of the specific form of the vessel derives from the importance in medieval Germanic culture of taking strong drink in the making of celebrations (toasts) and the customs and rituals surrounding these celebrations and amuletic (even supernatural) powers ascribed to them. The custom of Minnetrinken in which commemorative celebrations were made to invoke the memory of dead family members and loved ones, was especially associated with weddings with the fictive inclusion of the dead 'ancestors' of both families as witnesses to the matrimonial act. In this connection, these cups appear to be connected specially with Jewish weddings where two drinks of wine are taken as part of the ceremony of blessing. In Christian contexts, the list of persons celebrated could be extended to saints, martyrs, Christ and the Virgin Mary - not always approved or sanctioned by the ecclesiastical authorities but firmly entrenched in secular custom and folklore. Over time, the church came to accept the custom of Johannesminne in honour of St. John the Evangelist.

The double-cups can never have been numerous and indeed only a handful are known to survive; all but the present example being in museum collections. The circumstances of its discovery are intriguing: it was recovered in the 1960s from a gravel pit near the town of Donauwerth, western Bavaria, near the banks of the River Danube. The pit held many finds which were duly preserved by the landowners, including from Bronze Age down to Roman artefacts of bronze and iron with a smaller quantity of medieval items suggesting that the pit area was in use over many centuries (indeed, millennia) either as a place of deliberate deposition or perhaps a location where a difficult river crossing made casual loss unavoidable. The town of Donauwerth stands at the junction of the rivers Danube (Donau) and Wörnitz. A riverine trading port, the town became the last call for ships travelling inland from eastern Europe and Vienna. Its near neighbour is the city of Augsburg, which was granted the status of a Free Imperial City in 1276. Originally a Swabian settlement, political power in Donauwerth was held by the dukes of Upper Bavaria in the mid-13th century and in the 14th century, Donauwerth was made an imperial city. It adopted the Reformation in 1555.