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Plaque - The Masters Plaque

The Masters Plaque

  • Object:

    Plaque

  • Place of origin:

    Winchester (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1150-1160 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Hammered copper plaque, decorated with champlevé enamel, engraved and gilt

  • Museum number:

    M.209-1925

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 21

This unusual plaque has a well-documented provenance. It was given by Dr Robert Masters (1713-98), Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, to the Rev. Thomas Kerrich (1748-1828), a noted antiquary, in 1796. Kerrich's grandson, Albert Hartshorne another antiquary, bequeathed it to Hugh Wyatt of Worthing who sold it to the V&A. It is unusual for us to know so much of the history of a medieval object.

There seems to be little doubt that this plaque was produced in England. It is related to English manuscripts, particularly those of the Winchester school, with their clinging drapery. Its design is very unusual though. The rather confused lower half seems to indicate that it was copied from a drawing by an artist who hadn't fully understood it, nor realised the necessity of a clear-cut silhouette for the design of enamels. The figure of Christ with angels is closer to an Ascension scene, while the Hell scenes are familiar from representations of the Last Judgement, or the Harrowing of Hell. This combination leads to an iconography which is unique amongst surviving Last Judgements.

Around the edges of the plaque are eight pin holes, which would have been used to fasten it to a wooden core, but its original function and setting are unknown.

Physical description

Rectangular plaque, with a rounded top, and a gilded border. The plaque is slightly bowed. The background is blue, with the figures gilded, and some of the incised lines picked out in red enamel. The flames in the Hell scene are also in red enamel.

In the top half, the figure of Christ is represented full-length, with his proper left knee bent, wearing a full-length robe, and cloak, fastened centrally with a brooch. He has a halo represented in green enamel with a gilded cross. Within the folds of his robe, to the lower left, are four human heads, representing the souls of the blessed. His arms are out-stretched, and his proper right hand holds an orb surmounted by a cross. He is flanked by two angels, their wings stretching upwards, who face outwards. Their arms stretch up and back. Their haloes are in white enamel.

The lower half of the plaque contains a depiction of Hell. On the left-hand side is a feathered winged devil with feet in the form of bird claws. He is using a pronged fork to force a naked figure downwards. In a chaotic scene teeming with figures, other hairy devils drive the damned towards the flames of Hell, represented by a cauldron on the right-hand side. A standing horned devil with a red enamelled tongue in the centre is particularly prominent. Another hairy devil standing to the right uses a staff to push the damned down into the cauldron. Behind this can be seen the gates and walls of Hell, surmounted by flames.

Around the edge is a gilded border, in which are eight pin holes, which would have been used to fasten the plaque to a wooden core.

The plaque is generally in good condition, except for some areas of enamel loss. There are three particularly major areas where the blue enamel background is lost: the two lower corners, and at the top, above Christ's halo. Some of the gilding is rubbed, and there is some pitting of the enamel throughout.

The reverse has a faint inscription in black ink. Otherwise it is plain copper, with eight vertical scratches along the bottom edge in pairs.

Place of Origin

Winchester (made)

Date

ca. 1150-1160 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Hammered copper plaque, decorated with champlevé enamel, engraved and gilt

Marks and inscriptions

'Given to Thomas Kerrich by [Ro]bert Masters D.D. Aug. 23. 1796'
Inscribed very faintly on the reverse in black ink; apparently repeated below in red, but now doesn't seem to be visible.

Dimensions

Height: 13.8 cm, Width: 8.8 cm, Depth: 0.3 cm, Weight: 0.2 kg

Object history note

Given by Dr Robert Masters (1713-98), Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, to the Rev. Thomas Kerrich (1748-1828), a noted antiquary, in 1796. Kerrich's grandson, Albert Hartshorne another antiquary, bequeathed it to Hugh Wyatt of Worthing. Acquired by the V&A from him in 1925.

Historical significance: The figure of Christ with angels is more akin to an Ascension scene, while the Hell scenes are familiar from representations of the Last Judgement, or the Harrowing of Hell. This conflation leads to an iconography which is unique amongst surviving Last Judgements.

Historical context note

The rather confused design of the lower part of the plaque seems to indicate that it was copied from a drawing by an artist who hadn't fully understood it, nor realised the necessity of a clear-cut silhouette for the design of enamels.
Similar representations of Hell appear in contemporary manuscripts.
Around the edges of the plaque are eight pin holes, which would have been used to fasten it to a wooden core, but its original function and setting are unknown.

Descriptive line

Rectangular plaque, with a rounded top, and a gilded border

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

p.260
Zarnecki, G. et al (eds.), English Romanesque Art 1066-1200, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984
M. Chamot, English Medieval Enamels, London, 1930, pp.4-5, and cat. no.10, pp.25-26.
M. Gauthier, Emaux du moyen âge occidental, Fribourg, 1972, cat. no. 80
The Medieval Treasury, P. Williamson (ed.), London, 1986, p.129, entry by Marian Campbell

Labels and date

THE LAST JUDGEMENT
Champlevé enamel on copper gilt
English (probably Winchester); about 1150-1160 []

Production Note

There seems to be little doubt that this plaque was produced in England. Neil Stratford's entry in English Romanesque Art, 1984, stresses that it 'owes nothing to contemporary Mosan, German or Limoges enamelling', and relates it to English manuscripts including the Sherborne Cartulary (datable to about 1146) and the Lambeth Bible. Chamot attributes it to the Winchester School, citing the 'clinging and mapped-out drapery in the figure of Christ'. The Medieval Treasury compares the animation of the drawing style to the Winchester Psalter of about 1150.

Materials

Copper; Enamel

Techniques

Hammered; Champlevé

Subjects depicted

Hell; Devil; Angels

Categories

Enamels

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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