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Reliquary

Reliquary

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1551 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Partridge, Affabel (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    silver and silver gilt, rock crystal. embossed, chased , engraved

  • Museum number:

    LOAN:MET ANON.11-2007

  • Gallery location:

    Sacred Silver & Stained Glass, Room 83, The Whiteley Galleries, case 4A []

Scholars are divided over whether this vessel was made as a reliquary or a salt cellar. The marks on the vessel tell us that it was made in London in 1551, probably by the Royal Goldsmith Affabel Partridge, at a time when Catholics in England were being persecuted. He reused an earlier rock crystal cylinder and mounted it in the latest Continental style. The design is similar to the elaborate salt cellars of the period, and the decorative motifs - the masks, strapwork and shells - are secular rather than religious.

In 1737 Lady Mary and Sir Charles Browne, members of a wealthy Catholic family, gave the vessel to the Poor Clare nuns in Rouen, whose foundation had been established in 1644 for English Catholic women in exile. Some years later, the chronicles of the Poor Clares in Rouen record that 'This year 1741 [the vessel] was made into a reliquary to set upon the altar… '.

Lady Browne stated that the vessel had been found 'in the ruins of some old monastery that had been suppressed'. There may be some truth in this romantic vision as many religious artefacts were seized during the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-40) and later refashioned. Sir Charles Browne's great-great-grandfather - Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague (1528-92) - was granted monastic lands during the Reformation. Suppose Anthony Browne discovered the crystal tube at this time and had it remade into a prestigious vessel that was passed down through his family.

But was it intended as a reliquary or a salt cellar? Could Affabel Partridge's secular imagery have been simply a foil for the anti-Catholic authorities? There are arguments for and against, but whether or not we discover its complete history, the vessel remains a fascinating piece of craftsmanship highlighting a turbulent part of British history.

Physical description

Rock crystal body of plain cylindrical form, open at both ends. The cover, stem and foot, embossed, chased, engraved and applied with masks on strapwork, tied foliage, shells and mat bordered gadroons on matting, applied single breasted caryatid brackets at the body and foliate examples at the stem, female figure (possibly symbolising wisdom) with serpent and shield finial, engraved or stamped dog teeth, Vitruvian scroll and egg and dart borders. Marked on cover and base, the cover with later hinge, lock and key

Place of Origin

London (made)

Date

1551 (made)

Artist/maker

Partridge, Affabel (maker)

Materials and Techniques

silver and silver gilt, rock crystal. embossed, chased , engraved

Dimensions

Height: 28.1 cm including cover

Object history note

In 1737 Lady Mary and Sir Charles Browne, members of a wealthy Catholic family, gave the vessel to the Poor Clare nuns in Rouen, whose foundation had been established in 1644 for English Catholic women in exile. The vessel came to England in 1794 when the nuns settled in St Clare's Abbey, Darlington. In 2007 the community moved once again, this time to unite with the Poor Clares in Hereford. It was in the course of preparation for this move that they started to consider the future of this important object.

Historical significance: The Rouen community had brought it with them when in 1794 they returned to their native England, settling eventually in Saint Clare's Abbey, Darlington. In 2007 the community moved once again, this time to unite with the Poor Clares of Hereford.

Descriptive line

Reliquary, silver-gilt, attributed to Affabel Partridge, London, 1551

Labels and date

This is the story of a precious vessel that has recently been lent to the V&A by the Monastery of Poor Clares in Hereford. We are still unearthing its exciting history and debating its changing use over time. Scholars are divided over whether it was made as a reliquary or a salt cellar.

The marks on the vessel tell us that it was made in London in 1551, probably by the Royal Goldsmith Affabel Partridge, at a time when Catholics in England were being persecuted. He reused an earlier rock crystal cylinder and mounted it in the latest Continental style. The design is similar to the elaborate salt cellars of the period, and the decorative motifs - the masks, strapwork and shells - are secular rather than religious.

In 1737 Lady Mary and Sir Charles Browne, members of a wealthy Catholic family, gave the vessel to the Poor Clare nuns in Rouen, whose foundation had been established in 1644 for English Catholic women in exile. Some years later, the chronicles of the Poor Clares in Rouen record that 'This year 1741 [the vessel] was made into a reliquary to set upon the altar… our confessor giving us a box of relics that had been given to James the 3rd'. (By James III they meant James Stuart, the 'Old Pretender', whom Catholics regarded as the rightful king.)

In the letter reproduced here, Lady Browne stated that the vessel had been found 'in the ruins of some old monastery that had been suppressed'. There may be some truth in this romantic vision as many religious artefacts were seized during the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-40) and later refashioned. Sir Charles Browne's great-great-grandfather - Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague (1528-92) - was granted monastic lands during the Reformation. Suppose Anthony Browne discovered the crystal tube at this time and had it remade into a prestigious vessel that was passed down through his family.

But was it intended as a reliquary or a salt cellar? Could Affabel Partridge's secular imagery have been simply a foil for the anti-Catholic authorities? There are arguments for and against, but whether or not we discover its complete history, the vessel remains a fascinating piece of craftsmanship highlighting a turbulent part of British history. []

Materials

Silver; Silver gilt

Techniques

Embossed; Chased

Subjects depicted

Caryatids; Gadroons; Strapwork

Categories

Religion

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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