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The Valence Casket

  • Object:

    Casket

  • Place of origin:

    Limoges (possibly, made)
    England (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1305-1312 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Copper, engraved; gold; champlevé enamel

  • Museum number:

    4-1865

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 9, The Dorothy and Michael Hintze Gallery, case 1

This casket is decorated with a repeated pattern in enamel of six different shields, that is the Royal arms of England, and those of five leading familes, all related : Valence, Brittany, Angouleme, Brabant and Lacy . The device of three gold lions against a red enamelled background represents the Royal arms of England, as used before 1340. Here the device is used to highlight the close association of the owner with the English crown, and does not mean that the casket was made for a member of the royal family.It was probably made for a member of the Valence family, perhaps Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, who died in 1324.

The Valence family are known to have commissioned other works of champlevé enamel in addition to this piece. The partly enamelled tomb of William de Valence (d.1296) in Westminster Abbey is comparable to the Valence Casket. A silver, gold and enamel cup lid of ca. 1300 at All Souls College, Oxford, bears enamelled arms associated with Beatrice de Nesle, the wife of William's son, Aymer de Valence. The British Museum owns a copper alloy horse pendant of ca. 1290-1324, enamelled with the Valence arms (PE 1947,1007.1).

The casket is a fine example of the growth of interest in heraldry and heraldic ornament in the thirteenth century, which coincided with the increasing use of enamel on metalwork. Enamel was the only means by which metal could be permanently coloured, and colour was a vital element in heraldic language.

Physical description

The Valence Casket. The rectangular casket of copper alloy, champleve enamel in black, white, blue and red, and gilded. Supported on four paw-shaped feet (two restored), the hinged lid with a gilded handle terminating in a snake's head. The casket is decorated with armorial bearings:the Royal arms of England, as used before 1340, Valence (Earls of Pembroke), Brittany (Dreux), Angoulême, Brabant and Lacy (Earls of Lincoln).

Place of Origin

Limoges (possibly, made)
England (possibly, made)

Date

ca. 1305-1312 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Copper, engraved; gold; champlevé enamel

Marks and inscriptions

Barry argent and azure, an orle of martlets gules
Arms of Valence

Checky or and azure, a bordure gules; over all a quarter ermine.
Arms of Brittany

Lozenge or and gules
Angouleme

Sable Lion rampant or
Arms of Brabant

Or a lion rampant purpure
Arms of Lacy

Or three lions passant guardant gules
Arms of England before 1340

Dimensions

Height: 12.3 cm, Width: 17.7 cm, Depth: 14.5 cm, Weight: 2.5 kg

Object history note

Purchased for £150 in 1865

This casket may have belonged to William de Valence (d.1296) or to his son Aymer, Earl of Pembroke (d.1324). These are the only men known to have used the Arms of Valence depicted on this casket. The Valence family had links with the houses of Angoulême, England, Brittany and Brabant, whose arms also feature here. The tomb of William de Valence, which is partly enamelled, is comparable to the casket. A contemporary cup lid (All Souls College, Oxford) associated with Aymer's wife, Beatrice de Nesle, similarly features coats of arms in enamel.

Although the connection between the casket and the Valence family is generally accepted by art historians,the arrangement and positioning of the arms are somewhat ambiguous. The Valence arms have no more prominence than the other coats of arms. In fact, the shields are depicted in equal numbers. Such an arrangement of the coats of arms might suggest that the casket was intended to remind the owner of his ancestry rather than to appear as a gift between two individuals. However it is possible that the casket was made after two marriages. John Cherry suggests that the arms of Brabant and Brittany upon the casket may link to the mariage of Margaret, daughter or Edward I to John Duke of Brabant (1290) and the marriage of Beatrice, sister of Edward I, to John or Dreux, Duke of Brittany (1305). As Henry Lacy, the last Earl of Lincoln died in 1312, John Cherry dates the casket between 1305 and1312. This would attribute the casket to Aymer, Earl of Pembroke (d.1324), the son of William de Valence (d.1296).

Historical significance: This casket is an example of the growth of interest in heraldry and heraldic ornament in the thirteenth century. The developing interest in heraldry coincided with the increasing use of enamel on metalwork. Enamel was the only means of permanently colouring metal and was thus a crucial technique in the expression heraldic language.

Enamelled heraldic devices were not only used as a recurring decorative pattern as seen on this casket, they were also intermingled with other scenes. Three thirteenth century caskets in the Louvre, the church at Longpont (Aisne) and the Treasury of Aix-la-Chapelle Cathedral have coats of arms soldered to roundels which are riveted to the wooden core of the casket. These roundels are intermingled with scenes of courtly love or depictions of birds and dragons.

The incorporation of heraldic devices onto these caskets highlights that heraldry was used in two different ways in the thirteenth century. The heraldic roundels on the three caskets are intended to associate the object to a specific individual. The heraldry on the Valence casket on the other hand carries a more general association of ancestry and status.

Historical context note

This casket was probably used to hold valuables. It would originally have been lined with wood and fabric.It was normal for prominent families to decorate their possessions, as here, with their own arms with those of their relations. The arms upon this casket indicate that its owner moved in the court circle of king Edward I of England.

Descriptive line

The Valence Casket, copper alloy, gilding, enamels, England, ca. 1290-1324

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

Campbell, Marian, An Introduction to Medieval Enamels, London: HMSO, 1983, p. 3, fig. 24
M. Gauthier, Emaux du Moyen Age Occidental, Fribourg, Office du Livre, 1972, p.377, no.143
J. Cherry, 'Heraldry as Decoration in the Thirteenth Century', in England in the Thirteenth Century, Harlaxton Medieval Studies , W.M. Ormrod (ed), Paul Watkins, Stamford, 1991, pp.123-134
Richard Marks and Ann Payne, British Heraldry from its Origins to c.1800 London, British Museum, 1978, cat. 15
John Cherry, Medieval Decorative Art, British Museum Press, London, 1991,pp.30-1
Williamson, Paul (ed.), The Medieval Treasury, London: V&A Publications, 1998, p. 194
Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England 1200-1400, Alexander, J. and Binski, P. (eds), London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1987, no. 362, pp. 357-358

Labels and date

Decorated with the armorial bearings of the Valence family (Earls of Pembroke), the Royal arms of England as used before 1340, the Dukes of Brittany (Dreux), the families of Angoulême, Brabant and Lacy (Earls of Lincoln). This casket may have belonged to either Aymer de Valence (d.1324) or to his father, William (d.1296), with whose partly enamelled tomb in Westminster Abbey the casket is closely comparable. [2005]
THE VALENCE CASKET
Copper engraved and gilt, decorated in champlevé enamel with a diaper of coat-of-arms representing William de Valence, Earl of Pembroke (d.1296), and some of his family connections, including the royal house of England, the Dukes of Brittany (Dreux), Angoulême, and Brabant, and Lacy Earl of Lincoln.
English (?); 1290-1296
The arms are as follows:-
1. England Gules 3 lions passant gardant or.
2. Valence Barry argent and azure, an orle of martlets gules.
3. Brittany (Dreux) Checky or and azure, a bordure gules; over all a quarter ermine.
4. Angoulême Lozengy or and gules.
5. Brabant Sable a lion rampant or.
6. Lacy Or a lion rampant purpure.
The marriage of Margaret of England with John Duke of Brabant, which accounts for the presence of his arms, took place in 1290.
Some of the mounts restored; four knobs wanting from the lid. []

Production Note

Made in England or Limoges

Materials

Enamel; Copper alloy; Gold

Techniques

Champlevé; Engraved; Gilding

Categories

Metalwork; Enamels

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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