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Candlestick

Candlestick

  • Place of origin:

    Mosan (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1200 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Bronze

  • Museum number:

    1594-1855

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 10

This candlestick highlights a fashion in the 12th and 13th centuries for designs of beasts and monsters on domestic objects. It represents a winged dragon, a terrifying mythical creature able to breath fire. The craftsman has made reference to this characteristic by placing the candle pricket in the dragon’s mouth.

Physical description

Bronze pricket candlestick in the form of a grotesque dragon. The animal's feet and tail supports the weight of the object. Its back is adorned with foliated scrollwork, which forms the base of the candlestick itself. The beast curls back its neck and, with head turned upwards, opens its jaws. It spreads its wings outwards.

Place of Origin

Mosan (made)

Date

ca. 1200 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Bronze

Dimensions

Height: 11.5 cm, Width: 8.8 cm, Depth: 4.5 cm, Weight: 0.24 kg

Object history note

Purchase

Historical significance: Numbers of such decorative candlesticks survive from the 12th and 13th centuries. Nothing is known about who originally comissioned them, but it seems probable that their original owners were rather wealthy, as all metals were costly at this date. This candlestick is made of bronze (an alloy of copper tin and zinc), which was less costly than gold or silver.

Its pricket demonstrates how the medieval candlestick functioned; candle holders or sockets did not come into use until the 13th century. The three feet at the base of the object is another typical feature of the medieval candlestick. The design of this candlestick (in the form of a dragon) highlights a fashion during the 13th century for depicting animals and humans upon candlesticks. Falke and Meyer relate the V&A piece to a very similar candlestick, which depicts a winged dragon with head curled backwards. Another of their examples represents a dragon in combat with a knight who stands upon his back.

The dragon is a fantastical creature found in the ancient mythologies of Egypt, Greece and Rome. The dragon/serpent also features in the Bible (for example Job 41). Inspired by these examples, medieval bestiaries described the dragon as a winged beast with the tail of a serpent, pestilent breath and the ability to breathe fire. These monstrous characteristics reinforced the significance of the dragon as a hellish incarnation of Satan. However, the dragon also had more positive symbolic qualities. Owing to its near invincible strength, the dragon was also considered suitable as a guardian or protector, decorating the facades of holy places. In secular terms the dragon was a formidable opponent. In medieval Romances such as Tristan, knights proved their worth and their strength by defeating a dragon.

Historical context note

Medieval candlesticks were used both in the home and during religious ceremony to provide light. The candle was secured to its holder using a pricket or spike to impale the candle and hold it in place. Candlesticks were most commonly made from base metals during this period.

Descriptive line

Brass candlestick in the form of a dragon, Belgium, about 1200

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

Otto van Falke and Erich Meyer, Romanische Leuchter und Gefässe Giessgefässe der Gotik, Berlin, 1983, p.76, no.173
Seavers, Stephanie, "The Art of Illumination: Medieval Candlesticks and Manuscript Art", The Journal of the Antique Metalware Society, Vol. 15, June 2007, ISSN. 1359124X, p. 30, ill.

Labels and date

CANDLESTICK
In the form of a winged monster carrying a flower
Brass, cast and chased
Lotharingian; about 1200 []

Materials

Bronze

Techniques

Cast

Subjects depicted

Scrolling foliage; Dragon

Categories

Metalwork

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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