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Pyx

  • Place of origin:

    Portugal (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1540 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silver-gilt

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Dr W. L. Hildburgh FSA

  • Museum number:

    M.272-1960

  • Gallery location:

    Sacred Silver & Stained Glass, Room 83, The Whiteley Galleries, case 1

A pyx is a container used in churches to keep the consecrated host or communion bread from the mass. Small box shaped examples can also be used to carry communion to the sick. This Portuguese silver-gilt example from 1540 is decorated with the figure of a bird on the cover, known as the Pelican in her Piety. According to legend, when the pelican could not find food for her young, she plucked her breast and fed them with her own blood. The pelican’s self sacrifice became a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice for humanity and is often found on objects associated with the mass as well as in jewellery.

The Old Testament scenes around the sides of the pyx show events which foreshadow the life of Christ. For example, the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham echoes the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

Physical description

Silver-gilt. Square, the lid stepped and surmounted by a pelican with five young; sides with panels showing old Testament antetypes with appropriate inscriptions. The front shows the Death of Uzzah, the back the Fall of Manna, the right Samson killing the lion, the left: the sacrifice of Isaac.

Place of Origin

Portugal (made)

Date

ca. 1540 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Silver-gilt

Marks and inscriptions

Front: PERCUSSIT D. OZAM S.T. ET MORTUUS EST
Left: UBIEST VICTIMA DNS PROVIDEBIT FILI MI
Back: CUM DISSEN MAN ET DIXER UT MANHV
Right: DE COME DENT. EXIVIT CIBUS ET DE F. ED

Dimensions

Height: 6.50 cm, Width: 8.20 cm, Length: 8.40 cm

Object history note

Purchased from Sotheby's 17 November 1960, lot 82 under the Dr WL Hildburgh FSA Gift.

Historical context note

Saints and Symbols
Like most religions, Christianity has a rich language of images and symbols. This iconography would have been clearly understood in the past but it may be less familiar to modern eyes.

Though often decorative, the symbols used on religious metalwork also refer to the function and significance of the objects. The contemplation of religious motifs can draw believers into a deeper understanding of their faith. Complex theological themes can be represented in a visual form. A chalice, for example, might be adorned with the tools used in the Crucifixion (the 'Instruments of the Passion') to direct the viewer's mind towards Christ's sacrifice and his death on the cross.

The use of images has caused controversy throughout Christian history. While supporters held that imagery glorified God and helped believers understand their faith better, critics attacked its use as superstition and idolatry.

Saints
Christians venerate saints as men and women who, through the holiness of their lives, became especially close to God. The saints include martyrs who suffered and died for their faith as well as great teachers and preachers. Their lives provide an example and inspiration for the faithful. Roman Catholics also believe that saints can intercede on their behalf with God. In Christian iconography, saints are usually depicted with a distinctive object or 'attribute' associated with their martyrdom or works. For example, St Bartholomew, who was skinned alive, holds a flaying knife, and St George is shown with a dragon.

Descriptive line

Silver gilt pyx decorated with Old Testament scenes and a figure of the Pelican in her Piety. Portuguese, around 1540.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

The Golden Age of Hispanic Silver 1400- 1665, Charles Oman HMSO 1968

Labels and date

Pyx
A pyx (from the Greek for 'box') was used in Roman Catholic worship to contain the Sacred Host, the consecrated bread or wafer used in the Mass, or to take it to the bedside of the sick.

The cover of this pyx is decorated with a figure of a bird, known as the 'Pelican in her Piety'. According to legend, when the pelican could not find food for her young, she plucked her breast and fed them with her own blood. The pelican's self sacrifice became a symbol of Christ's sacrifice for humanity. This symbol is often found on objects associated with Holy Communion, as well as in jewellery.

The Old Testament scenes around the sides of the pyx show events that foreshadow the life of Christ. For example, the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham echoes the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

Portugal, about 1540
Silver gilt
Museum no. M.272-1960
Hildburgh Bequest [22/11/2005]

Materials

Silver

Techniques

Gilding

Subjects depicted

Pelican

Categories

Metalwork; Religion; Christianity

Production Type

Unique

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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