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Ein christliches Kultgefäss aus Glas in der Dumbarton Oaks Collection

Victor H. Elbern
Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen
4. Bd. (1962), pp. 17-41
DOI: 10.2307/4122660
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4122660
Page Count: 25
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Ein christliches Kultgefäss aus Glas in der Dumbarton Oaks Collection
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Abstract

A late antique glass cup in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection is decorated with two engraved pictures of Christian character. The better preserved part shows a cross within a canopy, flanked by angels bearing open boxes in their hands. On the very fragmentary opposite side there is a crosshatched "Crux Gemmata" with the greek letter Ω (the A is lost) and foliage beside it. A bearded figure on the right is rather well preserved, one hand of a corresponding figure on the left can still be seen. The present article, above all, moves the iconographic problem and the relation of the pictorial decoration to the function of the goblet, trying at the same time a new determination both from the morphological and historical points of view. To this purpose the cup in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection is being compared first to the famous Antioch silver chalice. A reconstruction of the missing foot of the glass cup is suggested in the same shape as it is found there. The main part of this contribution, however, is constituted by the iconographic examination of the two pictures described above. The cross between bearded men can be derived from a broad iconographic tradition in early Christian times, reaching from church apses and their mosaics to the decoration of various sarcophagi, patens and other objects of minor arts. The group, as a whole, is to be understood as a representation of the Triumphal Cross between the Princes of the Apostles. Foliage and A-Ω give further hints on the character of the cross as Tree of Life. It can be guessed that the cross on the cup originally stood on the hill of the four Streams of Paradise. The other group with the gabled canopy, a flight of steps leading upward and with curtains framing the cross, apparently reflects local Palestinian features, recalling the monuments on the Mount of Golgotha. It may be said that in both parts of the Dumbarton Oaks cup, both local reminiscences and cultic features are penetrating each other. Triumphal Cross and Tree of Life above the hill of the Sources of Paradise, and the Gemmed Cross between the apostles, surrounded by foliage, are flowing into the one picture of the cross as Fountain of Life in the Garden Eden, described many times in contemporary literature. There must not be overlooked the iconographic coincidence of the cross in the canopy with the representation of the - equally called "Lifegiving" - Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It must be pointed out, moreover, that both theologically and iconographically, the eucharistic Christian chalice in itself and in its use is understood as a "picture" of the tomb of Christ and at the same time of the Fountain of Life, because following to the early Fathers of the Church, the blood flowing out of the wound of Christ on the cross both lavacrum praestat et potum (St. Augustine), i.e. it means Baptism and Eucharist. This iconography has already been realized in the great apses of many an early Christian basilica. So it can be said that the glass goblet in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection bears a definite eucharistic decoration and, therefore, is to be considered as a cup for use in the Christian worship, as a mass chalice, with all probability for the distribution of the Holy Blood to the believers. This view is supported by the existence of a second glass cup of this kind, found at Gerasa (Palestine), with the representation of the Gemmed Cross between two lambs adoring it. This iconographic type again is to be found not only in early Christian apse mosaics, but also on a number of Ravennate sarcophagi and a group of reliquaries, clearly made under the influence of Syrian art in the 6th century. With the whole historical and artistic context displayed here, both the cups of Gerasa and in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection can be dated around the year 600 or, more likely, to the end of the 6th century. The discussion of the glass chalice of Dumbarton Oaks is closed by comparing it to an early Byzantine silver chalice in the Walters Art Gallery at Baltimore. Here again the cross appears twice, between two bearded figures, evidently meaning the Four Evangelists, often identified in early Christian literary sources with the four Streams of Paradise, accompanying Christ as the Tree of Life. So the glass cup in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection is not only one of the first eucharistic chalices come to our days, but at the same time a perfect example for the concentration of Christian pictures to a purely symbolical meaning, realized on a eucharistic vessel.

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