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Athos Holy Mount

Byzantine Minor Arts
9.39 Standing cup
17th c.
Dionysiou Monastery
Coconut husk, silver gilt
Height 21 cm, rim diameter 8 cm, base diameter 8.5 cm


The Original New Testament

This cup stands on a round base of coconut husk, bound with silver strapping. The stem is shaped like an urn, a feature typical of work from the Mannerist period (Hernmarck 1977, I, p. 107). The coconut husk bowl is secured by a set of silver straps ornamented with Renaissance motifs. To the surfaces framed by the strapping are affixed cast silver medallions with cupid motifs. A silver rim, also decorated in Renaissance style with arabesques and cast effigies (Hayward 1976, no. 278, p. 363. Gruber 1993, pp. 3113), is set at an angle to the bowl. It is not known whether or not the cup was lidded.

Standing cups made of precious metals, so characteristic of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, are chiefly associated with Germany, where the finest examples of the genre were produced. In a special sub-category are the composite cups, in which gold or silver mounts set off such materials as coconuts, ostrich eggs, shells and semiprecious stones; these were originally produced for the ruling classes, both ecclesiastical and temporal (Hayward 1976, p. 78. Hernmarck 1977, I, pp. 89, 109-10). Some of these rare and exotic materials, in certain cases brought in the cargoes of ships trading to distant continents, were considered to have peculiar properties, such as the ability to detect the presence of poison; others, such as coconuts, were highly prized for their shape. By the second half of the sixteenth century, the burgeoning trade with America was bringing articles made of coconut within the ambit of the prosperous middle classes of Central Europe. In the finest examples of this genre the husk is either ornamented with scenes usually drawn from mythology or the Old Testament, or set off by an ornate mounting (Fritz 1983, pp. 9-18, 20, 55-6, figs. 13, 78-9). The standing cup in the Monastery of Dionysiou, one of the plainer examples, displays a certain originality of design, seen, for example, in the coconut husk base and in the medallions affixed to the bowl, a form of ornamentation more usually associated with metalwork (Hayward 1987, no. 19, pp. 81-3). While the decoration appears to be somewhat carelessly executed, the overall conception and the variety of motifs are reminiscent of some fine earlier models (Hayward 1976, no. 291, p. 365. Hayward 1987, no. 38, pp. 118-21). This standing cup may have come from Hungary, where the genre was particularly popular (Kolba 1996, no. 38, p. 60).

Bibliography: Unpublished.

Y. I.-P.
Index of exhibits of Monastery of Dionysiou
17th century

The Authentic Greek New Testament Bilingual New Testament I

Icon of the Mother of God and New Testament Reader Promote Greek Learning
Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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