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Pyx

  • Place of origin:

    Spain (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1520 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Copper-gilt with cast and applied figures

  • Credit Line:

    Dr W.L. Hildburgh Bequest

  • Museum number:

    M.459-1956

  • Gallery location:

    Sacred Silver & Stained Glass, room 83, case 1

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This object forms the upper part of a pyx which would originally have had a spreading foot. It would have been used to store consecrated communion bread, known as the host, within a church. Pyxes have closely fitting lids to protect the host from any accident.

The scene on the front of the pyx is known as the Pièta. It shows the Virgin Mary lamenting over the dead body of her son Jesus. This image developed around 1300 and through its contemplation, the viewer could share the grief and compassion of Mary for her son.
Although church plate of this period is often made of silver or for the most wealthy, gold, gilded copper provided a cheaper but acceptable alternative.

Physical description

Oblong octagonal box with hinged lid drawn up in middle and surmounted by a ball knop (finial missing). The bottom is similarly formed and both are decorated with cast ornaments consisting of a spray flanked by two dolphins. The sides of the box are decorated with cast and applied figures separated by buttresses as follows: (1) Pieta (2) St Paul (3) St Philip (4) St James the greater (5) Annunciation to the Shepherds and Adoration (6)St John (7) St Andrew (8) St Peter.

Place of Origin

Spain (made)

Date

ca. 1520 (made)

Artist/maker

unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Copper-gilt with cast and applied figures

Dimensions

Height: 15.50 cm

Object history note

Previously in the Offerman Collection, American Art Association, New York, 11-13 Nov. 1937, lot 384.

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

Copper-gilt, Spain, around 1520.

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

The Golden Age of Hispanic Silver: 1400-1660, Charles Oman, HMSO 1968.

Exhibition History

Saints and Symbols (Sacred Silver and Stained Glass Galleries, the Victoria and Albert Museum 22/11/2005-22/11/2005)

Labels and date

Part of a Standing Pyx with the Pietà
This object forms the upper part of a pyx, which originally would have had a spreading foot. 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. It often has a closely fitting lid to protect the host from any accident.

Church plate of this period is often made of silver or, for the most wealthy, gold. This pyx is made of gilded copper, which provided a cheaper but acceptable alternative.

The scene on the front is known as the Pièta. It shows the Virgin Mary lamenting over the dead body of her son Jesus. This image developed around 1300 and through its contemplation, the viewer could share the grief and compassion of Mary for her son.

Spain, about 1520
Copper gilt
Museum no. M.459-1956. Hildburgh Bequest [22/11/2005]

Materials

Copper gilt

Techniques

Casting

Subjects depicted

St. John; St. Paul; St. Peter; St. Andrew; St. James the Greater; St. Philip

Categories

Metalwork; Religion; Christianity

Collection code

MET

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Qr_O103096
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