Overview

This chalice, a vessel to hold wine for Mass, is one of the most splendid treasures from the Middle Ages. Acquired by Abbot Suger for the French royal abbey of Saint-Denis, near Paris, the stone cup was set in gold and probably used in the consecration ceremony for the new altar chapels of the church on 11 June 1144.

Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis from 1122 to 1151, was not only a Benedictine monk but also a brilliant administrator who served as regent of France during the Second Crusade. With objects such as this chalice and the abbey's new Gothic architecture, he aimed to create a vision of paradise on earth that would awe beholders. In his writings, Suger equated Divine Light with the real light shimmering through stained glass and glistening from gems.

The cup incorporated in Abbot Suger's chalice was carved from sardonyx, probably in Alexandria, Egypt during the second to first centuries B.C. Suger's goldsmiths mounted the cup in a gold and silver setting with delicate gold-wire filigree and adorned it with gems. On the foot, a medallion depicts the haloed Christ, flanked by the Greek letters signifying: "I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End."

Inscription

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Abbey Church of Saint-Denis, France, from 1137/1140 to 1791;[1] Cabinet National des Médailles et Antiques, Paris, from 30 September 1791 to 16 February 1804;[2] acquired 1804 by Charles Towneley [1737-1805], London; in the Towneley family, London, until possibly 1920. (Harry Harding, London), in 1920; (Goldschmidt Galleries, New York), by 1921; purchased 20 March 1922 by Joseph E. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, after purchase by funds of the Estate; gift 1942 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1967
Treasures from Medieval France, Cleveland Museum of Art, 1967, 70-71, color repro.
1979
[Loan in conjunction with symposium on Byzantine Liturgy], Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., 1979. [published incorrectly in Systematic Catalogue as 1978]
1981
The Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis in the Time of Abbot Suger (1125-1151), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1981, 108-111.
1991
Le Trésor de Saint-Denis, Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1991, no. 28, repro. 175.
1997
The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era A.D. 843-1261, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1997, no. 296, repro.
Bibliography
1625
Doublet, Dom Jacques. Histoire de l'Abbaye Royale de Saint Denys en France. Paris, 1625.
1641
Duchesne, François. Historia Francorum. Vol. 4. Paris, 1641.
1706
Félibien, Michael. Histoire de l'abbaye royale de Saint-Denys en France. 1706. Reprint Paris, 1976, recueil de pièces justificatives, part 2, 172-187.
1867
Lecoy de la Marche, A. Oeuvres complètes de Suger. Paris, 1867.
1877
Bouquet, Martin. Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France. Vol. 12. Paris, 1781. 2d ed., Paris, 1877.
1883
Rohault de Fleury, Charles. La Messe. Etudes archéologiques sur ses monuments. 8 vols. Paris, 1883-1889, 4:123-124, pl. 309.
1901
Omont, Henri. Inventaire du trésor de Saint-Denis en 1505 et 1739. Paris, 1901.
1910
Guibert, Joseph. Les dessins du cabinet de Peiresc au Cabinet des Estampes de la Bibliothèque Nationale. Paris, 1910: 27-28, 33-35, 39, 41-43, 46, pl. III.
1915
Conway, Sir W. Martin. "The Abbey of Saint-Denis and its Ancient Treasures." Archaeologia or Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity 66 (1915): 103-158, pl. 16.
1922
Rosenberg, Marc. Der Goldschmiede Merkzeichen. 3d ed. 4 vols. Frankfurt-am-Main, 1922-1928: 4:311-312.
1923
Ricci, Seymour de. "Un calice du trésor de Saint-Denis." Académie des inscriptions et Belles-Lettres: Comptes Rendus des séances de l'année Paris (1923): 335-339.
1926
Rosenberg, Marc. "Ein wiedergefundener Kelch." Festschrift zum sechzigsten Geburtstag von Paul Clemen. Bonn, 1926: 209-217.
1932
Braun, Joseph, S.J. Das Christliche Altargerät in seinem Sein und in seiner Entwicklung. Munich, 1932: 46-47, pl. 3, fig. 8.
1942
Works of Art from the Widener Collection. Foreword by David Finley and John Walker. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 9.
1946
Panofsky, Erwin. Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis and its Art Treasures. Princeton, 1946. 2d ed. Edited by Gerda Panofsky-Soergel. Princeton, 1979.
1949
Seymour, Charles. Masterpieces of Sculpture from the National Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1949: 10, 171, note 1, repro. 27.
1952
Christensen, Erwin O. Objects of Medieval Art from the Widener Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1952: 6-7.
1957
Guth, Paul. "Le trésor fabuleux des rois mages." Connaissance des arts 70 (December 1957): 147.
1957
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): 1, pl. 1
1960
Revel, J. F. "Un problème controversé: l'exil des oeuvres d'art." Connaisance des arts 96 (February 1960): 42-43, color pl.
1965
Crosby, Sumner McKnight. "The Creative Environment." Ventures, Magazine of the Yale Graduate School 5, no. 2 (1965): 10-15.
1967
Treasures from Medieval France. Exh. cat. Cleveland Museum of Art, 1967: 70-71, color repro.
1967
Wentzel, Hans. "Abseitige Trouvaillen an Goldschmied." Studien zur Buchmalerei und Goldschmiedekunst des Mittelalters. Fest. K.H. Usener. Marburg-an-der-Lahn, 1967: 65-78, especially 74-75, figs. 14-15.
1969
von Euw, Anton. In Fillitz, Hermann. Das Mittelalter I. Propyläen Kunstgeschichte. Vol. 5. Berlin, 1969: 256.
1971
Frisch, Teresa G. "Gothic Art 1140 -c. 1450." Sources and Documents in the History of Art. Ed. by H. W. Janson. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1971: 11.
1972
Lasko, Peter. Ars Sacra. Pelican History of Art. Baltimore, 1972: 227.
1973
Montesquiou-Fezensac, Blaise de, and Gabrielle Gaborit-Chopin. Le Trésor de Saint-Denis, Inventaire de 1634. Paris, 1973: 38, 57-58, 164-165.
1975
Verdier, Philippe. "Réflexions sur l'esthétique de Suger." Etudes de civilisation médiévale: Mélanges offerts à Edmond-René Labande. Poitiers, 1975: 699-709, 700-702, figs. 1, 2.
1975
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 36, color repro.
1977
Montesquiou-Fezensac, Blaise de, and Gabrielle Gaborit-Chopin. Le Trésor de Saint-Denis. Document divers. Paris, 1977: 177-181.
1977
Montesquiou-Fezensac, Blaise de, and Gabrielle Gaborit-Chopin. Le Trésor de Saint-Denis. Planches et notices. Paris, 1977: 57-59, pls. 41-43.
1981
The Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis in the Time of Abbot Suger (1125-1151). Exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1981: 108-111.
1982
Alsop, Joseph. The Rare Art Traditions: The History of Art Collecting and Its Linked Phenomena Wherever These Have Appeared. Bollingen series 35, no. 27. New York, 1982: 57.
1983
Brenk, B. "Suger Spolien." Arte Medievale 1 (1983): 107.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 34, color repro. 35.
1990
Verdier, Philippe. "The Chalice of Abbot Suger." Studies in the History of Art 24 (1990): 9-29.
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 196, color repro.
1991
Le Trésor de Saint-Denis. Exh. cat. Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1991: no. 28, repro. 175.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 308, repro.
1993
Distelberger, Rudolf, Alison Luchs, Philippe Verdier, and Timonthy H. Wilson. Western Decorative Arts, Part I: Medieval, Renaissance, and Historicizing Styles including Metalwork, Enamels, and Ceramics. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1993: 4-12, color fig. 4.
1997
Richler, Martha. National Gallery of Art, Washington: A World of Art. London, 1997: 18, color fig. 8.
1998
Pennanen, Valerie Hutchinson. "Communion." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art, ed. Helene E. Roberts. 2 vol. Chicago and London, 1998: 1:180-181, 184,186, repro.
2000
National Gallery of Art Special Issue. Connaissance des Arts. Paris, 2000: repro. 59, 62.
2005
Honour, Hugh and John Fleming. A World History of Art. 7th ed. New York, 2005: 377, color fig. 9.37.
2010
Gopnik, Blake. "Oldest Object on Display--National Gallery of Art." The Washington Post (October 3, 2010): R9, repro.
Technical Summary

The domed foot of the sardonyx cup is no longer visible in the modern restoration. It is hidden by the circlet studded with pearls above the knob. Between 1633 and 1706 a lower curl and a loop were added to the curling upper parts of the handles. The faceted stones of the knob are late medieval replacements. Only a few of the original stones meticulously itemized in the 1634 inventory remain today. The modern replacements are mainly glass insets, red or purple, and a number of pearls are imitations in white glass. The lower part of the foot is different from what it was until the French Revolution. It has been straightened out into a narrower and more conical shape. The flat bottom edge has been remade, with the addition of a beaded string and a cable. All the stones and the settings have been changed.

Related Content