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in reserve in enameled sections of foot, names of the Three Kings, each divided so that the letters flank the relevant figures: BALTASAR, MELCHIOR, CASPAR; on scroll carried by the angel of the Annunciation on lid: AVE MARIA

Marks and Labels

scratched into the bottom of the foot: 26; other illegible arabic numerals


Reportedly Poblet Abbey, Catalonia, Spain.[1] Purchased from an unknown source by Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, as French (Limoges), fourteenth century; 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.

Technical Summary

Two enamel colors were used for the backgrounds of the images on the lid and foot, with a bright turquoise alternating with a duller gray-green. Signs of devitrification in the duller color, which may once have been cobalt blue, were under continuing study at press time.[1] On the bowl, cobalt blue enamel outside the medallions fades to green. In a slightly damaged area at the top of one medallion, cobalt appears to underlie the green. Elsewhere the cobalt is on the surface.

The enamel is slightly damaged at the bottom of the cross in the Crucifixion and behind the angel of the Annunciation. There is some wear to the gilding in the Nativity scene; much gilding is worn off the base, as well as the knob stem, and the base of the finial.

A capsa - a small container for the Host - may once have existed inside the bowl, as suggested by a bare copper area within a neat circle in the center, with scratches around it.[2] The hole in the center perhaps once accommodated a screw that held the bowl or the lost capsa in place.

X-ray fluorescence analysis indicates that all the metallic components of the ciborium, including the cross inserted loosely at the top, are of a very similar composition (characterized by fairly pure copper with traces of iron, lead, silver, and manganese) except for the pin, whose high purity, without traces of silver, suggests it is a modern copper replacement for a lost pin that originally secured the lid.[3] The presence of mercury indicates fire-gilding. Two tiny holes (one now plugged) in the lid at the bottom of the Crucifixion scene may once have held a chain attached to the original pin.[4]

[1] Berrie and Sturman 1992. The high potassium and low lead content of this color apparently made it particularly susceptible to decomposition under conditions of elevated relative humidity and temperature.[2] The capsa survives, lidless, in a ciborium in The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore (no. 44.112).[3] Report of 20 March 1985, in NGA conservation laboratory files.[4] Compare the example once in the Dzalynski-Czartoryski collection in Poland; Emile Molinier, Collections du Château de Goluchow. Objets d'art du moyen âge et de la Renaissance (Paris, 1903), 44, no. 164, pl. VIll.


Inventory of the Objects d'Art at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, The Estate of the Late P.A.B. Widener. Philadelphia, 1935: 30.
Works of Art from the Widener Collection. Foreword by David Finley and John Walker. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 9, as Limoges 14th Century, Ciborium of copper gilt with champlevé enamel.
Christensen, Erwin O. Objects of Medieval Art from the Widener Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1952: 18-22, 30.
Howell, C. W. "Ciborium." In New Catholic Encyclopedia. 16 vols. New York, 1967: 3:870, repro.
Gauthier 1972, 191-192, 376, no. 140, repro. 191.
Ebitz, David McKinnon. In Eucharistic Vessels of the Middle Ages. Exh. cat. Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1975: 84-85.
Leone de Castris, Pierluigi. In Medioevo e produzione artistica di serie: smalti di Limoges e avori gotici in Campania. Ed. Giusti and Leone de Castris. Exh. cat. Museo Duca di Martina, Naples, Florence, 1981: 18.
The Thomas F. Flannery, Jr. Collection; Medieval and Later Works of Art. Sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 1 December 1983: 50-51, under no. 37.
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: 41-45, color fig. 42.
Conservation Division's Fiftieth Anniversary Committee. "Innovation and Collaboration: Fifty Years of Conservation at the National Gallery." Art for the Nation no. 66 (Fall 2022): 17, fig. 21.

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