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Athos Holy Mount

Byzantine Minor Arts
9.73 Chalice
ca. 1500
Xenophontos Monastery
Silver gilt, silver and enamel
Height 23.5 cm, base diameter 13.5 cm, rim diameter 10.5 cm


The Original New Testament

Engraved on the cup of this chalice, between the rim and the calyx, are three medallions with the representation of the Deesis: Christ, in bust and frontal is flanked by the Virgin and John the Baptist, who are portrayed in three quarters view; in the corresponding position on the opposite side of the cup are a cross of the Russian type, with three horizontal arms, and the instruments of the Passion. All the themes are accompanied by monogram inscriptions in Slavonic. Six lunceolate elements, like 'sepals', with filigree enamel in green and blue divide the calyx into six larger compartments. Covering these sections is a beaded filigree netting, patterned alternately with circlets within circles and with smaller circles filling the spaces between zig-zag bands. The calyx terminates in an ornately palmetted corolla. The stem between the cup and the knop and the knop and the foot is hexagonal, with an outer frame of twisted wire; engraved on each facet is the Latin letter I (for IESUS). Following the line of the sepals, six narrow open-work strips decorated with an ornate tendril motif in relief divide the flattened spherical knop into six sections, each of which has a sculpted double rosette framed by leaves. A hexagonal ring with a facing of intersecting filigree strips covers the seam where the stem meets the foot. The angular facets of the foot flow smoothly into the six lobes of the broad, stepped base. Covering the vertical face of the upper, ornamented part of the base is an open-work band of quatrefoils alternating with quatrefoils inscribed within lozenges. Twining tendrils with stylized palmettes are engraved on the angular facets forming the top of the foot; beneath these, on the lobes, six-winged seraphs separate the figures of the Prophets Zechariah (the younger?), Habakkuk and Jacob. These are identified by Slavonic inscriptions, for otherwise there is little to distinguish them: all three are represented as young men, bodies inclined and arms raised in almost identical fashion, except that Habvakkuk is turning his head towards the left and the others to the right. All are dressed in western style with mantles billowing out behind them.

The calyx with its palmettes, the facetted stem, the knop with its perforate relief decoration, and the multi-lobed foot with its broad, stepped base are all characteristic features of the late-Gothic style as it had developed in Hungary, and Slovakia and Transylvania, which at that time (ca. 1500) were under the Hungarian crown (Braun 1932, pp. 101-3, 107, 116). Of particular note is the beaded filigree netting, which is frequently used as an independent decorative feature, in a number of variants and combinations, with enamel, as in the Xenophontos chalice, or with other techniques on several chalices made in this region in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries (Braun 1932, p. 150. Kolba-Nιmeth 1986, p. 8, figs. 6, 8). In its filigree work, in the shape of the knop and the initials on the stem, this chalice resembles similar pieces in the Cathedrals of Esztergom (Hungary) and Bratislava (Slovakia), in the Monastery of Tatarna (Eurytania) as well as others from churches in Transylvania (Csιfalvay 1984, figs. 18-19, 21.Toranovΰ 1982, nos. 86, 91, pp. 194-5. Koumoulidis et al. 1991, fig. 105β. Roth 1922, I, pp. 66-9, II, pls. 59-60).

The prophets engraved on the base fit well to the central European style of the chalice. Engraved figurative decoration on surfaces of this shape was commonly used in the fifteenth century, often traced from an anthivolon (Fritz 1966, pp. 395-6). This may well have been the case with this chalice, and would account for the pronounced similarity of the figures, evidently executed by a goldsmith familiar with the latest developments in the art of engraving. Apart from such obvious elements as the seraphs and the Slavonic inscriptions, the cross and the Deesis on the cup of this chalice, both of high quality of craftmanship, connect the Xenophontos chalice as regards its iconography with the Russian tradition, where these same motifs had been used to decorate the cups of chalices since the twelfth century (Rybakov 1971, figs. 73-6. Russkoj kul'tury, figs. 302, 313). Finally, the stylized tendrils decorating the upper part of the foot are a motif characteristic of Gospel book covers produced in Moldavia around 1500 (Tafrali 1925, II, pl. XIII, fig. 58. Nicolescu 1968, no. 327, p. 269).

This chalice would appear to have been commissioned by a patron who wished his gift to be decorated with iconographic motifs characteristic of his own Orthodox tradition. With its solid construction, its purity of line and its varied decoration, this chalice is one of the finer examples of its type, and was probably a princely gift. Documentary evidence, although not contemporary, indicates that at the period in question there was a connection between Xenophontos Monastery and the Graiovescu family, boyars of Oltenia (part of western Wallachia, also known as the County of Severin; Nasturel 1986, pp. 259-60).

Bibliography: Unpublished.

Index of exhibits of Monastery of Xenophontos
16th 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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