The Wallace Collection

A Renaissance Glass Goblet, French, c.1540-50 (XXVB96)
A Renaissance Glass Goblet
A Renaissance Glass Goblet
Treasure of the Month - April 2006

A Renaissance Glass Goblet, French, c.1540-50 (XXVB96)

This stunning glass goblet, elaborately decorated with enamelling and gilding, is one of the most accomplished and extraordinary glasses made in mid-16th-century France.

With its image of Christ on the cross and its chalice form, it is a wonderful Treasure to highlight during the Easter season, when Christians contemplate Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection with especial poignancy. The goblet was almost certainly made by Italian glassmakers working in France, probably in close proximity to the French court. Throughout the 16th century, Venice was the most prestigious production centre for luxury glass and wealthy French patrons would have been keen to attract accomplished Italian glassmakers to work in France. The quality of the glass itself, together with the technique and style of its decoration, demonstrate its debt to Venetian glassmaking.

The goblet’s bold and simple three part form is accentuated by the compartmentalized arrangement of its intricate enamelled and gilded decoration. Its focal point is the Crucifixion itself, centred on the front of the broad trumpet foot. A sign on the post above Christ’s head is inscribed INRI, an abbreviation of the Latin for ‘Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews’.

He is flanked by a ribbon scroll bearing the Latin inscription SINE ME NICHIL (‘Without me, nothing’), referring to Christ’s sacrifice for the Redemption of humanity.

The decoration on the bowl is intriguing. The band of gilding below the rim is incised with half flower heads within triangles and framed by enamelled decoration. Snakes and rays emanate from the centre of the bowl. The snakes probably symbolize evil here, since the serpent brought about man’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden, and it was through Christ’s sacrifice that man was redeemed. Glass chalices could not be used for the celebration of the Eucharist in church services due to their fragility, so we can only speculate as to the intended use of this goblet.

The goblet is one of a surviving group of about two dozen French glasses that seem to have been produced in the same workshop, having stylistic and thematic features in common. The majority are drinking vessels. Their subject matter usually concerns courtship or religion and their decoration is embellished with ornament derived from a distinctive range of patterns. With their interesting themes and colourful decorations, they are some of the most fascinating luxury glasses of the Renaissance.

Further Reading

  • Suzanne Gaynor, Glass, The Wallace Collection, 1984
  • Jutta-Annette Page et al, Beyond Venice, Corning, 2004