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Spoon

1676
Place Of Origin

This finely carved spoon was probably made to commemorate the Battle of Lund, fought in southern Sweden between the invading Danish forces and the Swedes, headed by Field Marshal Simon Grundel-Helmfeld (1617-1677) and the young Swedish King Charles XI (1655-1698). It carries the date ‘1676’ and the two figures carved in low relief on the inside and outside of the bowl relate (somewhat loosely) to portraits of the two men by the Swedish court painter David Klöcker Erhrenstrahl (1616-1677). The carved inscriptions appear to be in an old form of German and consist of pious phrases relating to salvation through the Blood of Christ. This may be an indication that the spoon was carved in the areas of north Germany that were at that time under Swedish rule (Pomerania). The spoon might have been made to be a gift, or purchased by a collector as an example of high craftsmanship, with patriotic symbolism. The figures on the handle include Adam and Even, the Virgin and Child, and a monkey, provoking the viewer to consider the seduction of earthly pleasures in contrast to the value of religious faith.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Carved boxwood
Brief Description
Spoon of carved wood, the bowl carved with an image of a man in a wig on the inside and with a younger man on horseback on the outside (Charles XI of Sweden) and with the date. The shaft is carved with figures of Adam and Eve, with the Virgin and Child, and with a finial in the form of a monkey
Physical Description
Spoon of carved wood, the bowl carved with an image of a man in a wig on the inside and with a younger man on horseback on the outside and with pious Christian phrases in archaic German and with the date 1676. The two men may represent Charles XI of Sweden on horseback and his Field Marshal at the Battle of Lund, which was fought in 1676. The shaft iscarved with figures of Adam and Eve, with the Virgin and Child, and with a finial in the form of a monkey
Dimensions
  • Length: 7.75in
Dimensions taken from Departmental Catalogue
Marks and Inscriptions
  • cHRISTUM LIB HABEN IST TRESSER DN ALLES WISSEN ANNO 1676 (Carved in relief around the portrait bust of a man carved on the inner bowl.)
  • DAS BLUT IESU CHRIST GOTES SOHN MACHET UNS VON ALS VNDA (Carved in relief around the rim of the outside of the bowl, above a relief of a man on horseback.)
Gallery Label
SPOON GERMAN: dated 1676 Boxwood, carved on the outside with an equestrian figure of an Elector of Germany; the stem carved with Adam and Eve embracing, and the Virgin and Child; on the finial is a monkey.(pre October 2000)
Credit line
Purchased by the Museum from the collection of Ralph Bernal
Object history
This spoon was purchased in 1855 from the sale of the collection of Ralph Bernal, for £7.15s (£7.75). At the time it was thought to show the head of one of the German Electors (one of the rulers of the many small states that made up the Holy Roman Empire, and who were entitled to elect the Emperor). This was not an unreasonable guess, as the spoon carries inscriptions in an old-fashioned form of German. The purchase price paid for it by the Museum reflects that it would have been considered a very fine piece of carving. Such pieces were made to reflect fine craftsmanship and might even have been made for inclusion in a sophisticated cabinet of art curios.



The spoon is carved with reliefs showing images of two men, the date 1676, and two pious Christian phrases referring to salvation through the blood of Christ.

It seems likely, therefore, that the spoon was carved to commemorate the Battle of Lund, fought on 4 December 1676 near Lund in Southern Sweden, between the invading Danish army and the army of Charles XI of Sweden (1655-1697). The Swedish army, which was heavily outnumbered, was commanded by Field Marshal Grundel-Helmfeld (1617-1677) and the young Charles XI.



The head of the older man, with a long, curly wig, carved on the inside of the bowl of the spoon, may be that of the Field Marshal. The portrait of the man on horseback on the back of the bowl may be intended for Charles XI. Both these suggested identifications are made on the basis of similarities to portraits of the two men made by the Swedish court painter David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl (1628-1698). He shows the Grundel-Helmfeldt with a bushy, curly wig and strong eybrows. The young king he shows on horseback with flowing, more naturalistic hair and with the wreath of a victor on his head (as here), although the details of his clothes are different.

Following his success in what is now called the Scanian War, the young Charles reigned for twenty years, bringing about great reforms in finance, commerce, the law, church governance and education. He was a devout Lutheran and devoted the rest of this life to economic and social stabilisation and firm rule, taking absolute power as monarch. It was during his rule that a new Swedish hymn book was published and plans set in train for a new translation of the Bible (published after his death, in 1703). A legend has it that he travelled round the country in disguise, wearing a simple grey coat, to identify and punish corruption and oppression of the populace. In 1679 the king married the Danish Princess Ulrika Eleonora. They were a devoted couple and undertook many projects of enlightened development.



The king commemorated the date of the Battle of Lund throughout his life and it was clearly an important event in Swedish history. This spoon appears to have quotations in an archaic form of German carved into it. Sweden held power in a number of areas beyond the Baltic Sea, in the Northern German States (Pomerania and Brandenburg) and in Estonia and Lithuania, where German would have been the usual language.



The carving on the bowl of the spoon is more sophisticated than that on the handle, which shows a naked couple (Adam and Eve), who they sit above a devilish mask, visible on the other side of the handle, from whose mouths trail snake-like forms, above a figure of the Virgin Mary and the Holy Child. The finial of the handle appears to show a monkey. Monkeys in chains were sometimes included in a design to illustrate the idea of man trapped by his earthly and sensual desires, an interpretation that might be supported by the naked figures further up the handle.

Subjects depicted
Summary
This finely carved spoon was probably made to commemorate the Battle of Lund, fought in southern Sweden between the invading Danish forces and the Swedes, headed by Field Marshal Simon Grundel-Helmfeld (1617-1677) and the young Swedish King Charles XI (1655-1698). It carries the date ‘1676’ and the two figures carved in low relief on the inside and outside of the bowl relate (somewhat loosely) to portraits of the two men by the Swedish court painter David Klöcker Erhrenstrahl (1616-1677). The carved inscriptions appear to be in an old form of German and consist of pious phrases relating to salvation through the Blood of Christ. This may be an indication that the spoon was carved in the areas of north Germany that were at that time under Swedish rule (Pomerania). The spoon might have been made to be a gift, or purchased by a collector as an example of high craftsmanship, with patriotic symbolism. The figures on the handle include Adam and Even, the Virgin and Child, and a monkey, provoking the viewer to consider the seduction of earthly pleasures in contrast to the value of religious faith.
Bibliographic Reference
Gerbi, Antonello, 'Il Peccato di Adamo ed Eva. Storia della Ipotesi di Beverland' (Milan: Soc. Editrice 'La Cultura', 1933), pp. 109-11, illus. fig.18. Translated from the Italian: 46. The wooden spoon at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The work by Beverland is dated 1678. Only two years earlier is the date carved on a very curious wooden spoon ‘lost’ among thousands of objects in the boundless Victoria and Albertt Museum in London (n. 3 Room 1, case 246, Boxwood spoon 2142-1855. I am indebted to the courtesy, zeal and intelligence of Miss Olga Poliakoff of London, for most of the information gathered in this paragraph, and the images of the object in question). Distinctive are the figures incised and carved on it, lacking finesse but done with a realistic and raw energy that recalls Brouwer and Ostade. Even more distinctive is the choice of figures and their pose. At one end of the handle is a monkey eating buns. Against his feet rises a slender and severe Virgin with Child in her arms, long hair and one the right, the sceptre of the Queen of Grace. Higher up, seated or better, leaning on a mask, around which a serpent winds and knots itself, are Adam and Eve – as fleshy and sensual as the Virgin is slim and incorporeal; Adam and Eve with greedy and vulgar faces in the act of taking delight in one another, with limbs twisted and moved in their libertine embrace. Above their heads opens the bowl of the spoon, also carved with strange figures, perhaps portraits of German electors, and bearing on the edges the two significant epigraphs – the blood of Jesus Christ which purifies sin – and – to look Christ is better than all knowledge 1676. The first is a reminder that Christ came to redeem humanity from original sin. The second admonishes to put love of God before all vain desire for knowledge. There is therefore something for our curiosity about the 'difference between good and evil', and in addition there is something prurient in the figures on the handle, by which sin itself is symbolised. The spoon is a graphic compendium of natural and reflex ‘beverlandism’. Unfortunately, nothing is known of its origins or purpose. Probably German, and north German, as indicated by the inscriptions and portraits, it formed part of the collection of Bernal, an illustrious family of Spanish Jews. The Bernals, arrived in England, were completely English – naturalised, protestant and constitutionally. The old Ralph Bernal, 34 years an MP spent £66,000. His collection was sold by Christie’s in 1855, and precisely on the 14th day of the sale, March 21st, a little after one(?) was auctioned no. 615 “a beautiful boxwood spoon, the bowl carved with an equestrian figure,… dated 1676; the handle formed of a male and female figure (sic) seated on a mask, and the Virgin and Child, and other figures”, which is undoubtedly ours, and came to be judged at Marlborough house for the very notable sum of £7 and 15 shillings. Two years later, Queen Victoria founded the museum which bears her name and that of her beloved Prince Consort. In 1932, the curators of the museum had lost all record of the wooden spoon; they gave it no importance; they knew nothing about it; and they responded to unexpected questions with courtesy and generic evasions.
Collection
Accession Number
2142-1855

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record createdApril 26, 2001
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