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The Włocławek cup is the most precious and one of the oldest exhibits of decorative art from the collections at the National Museum in Kraków. It was made in the 1st half of the 10th century, presumably in a workshop located on the territory of Lorraine or Alemannia.

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The Włocławek cup is the most precious and one of the oldest exhibits of decorative art from the collections at the National Museum in Kraków. It was made in the 1st half of the 10th century, presumably in a workshop located on the territory of Lorraine or Alemannia. It was forged in silver, bears traces of gilding and also an engraved, punched (by making holes in a metal object), nielloed decoration. On the surface of the vessel with four convex medallions, there are eight scenes describing the history of the deliverance of Israel from captivity of the Midianites by Gideon (the Old Testament, the Book of Judges, chapters VI—VII), completed with a plant and geometric ornament. The cup was presumably a liturgical vessel, probably a chalice. It was ploughed near Włocławek, in the vicinity of the road to Brześć Kujawski by Marcin Marciniak and Jan Sapiński on 3 May 1909. The cup, given to Reformed Franciscan priests from Włocławek by its finders, was conserved in a workshop of the Łopieński brothers in Warsaw. The cup was deposited in 1910 in the National Museum in Kraków upon the initiative of Priest Władysław Górzyński, the canon of the chapter of Włocławek. The exhibit was purchased for the collection in the same year; payment was made in two instalments of 1000 koruna.

Elaborated by Alicja Kilijańska (The National Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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Unearthed treasure

Marcin Marciniak and Jan Sapiński did not suppose that the morning of 3 May 1909 would bring anything special and change their lives in any way whatsoever. While our working in a field, after the plough hit something, one of them found a hard object. The vessel, enveloped in clay, turned out to be one of the most valuable preserved monuments of the artistic craft of pre-Romanesque art, associated with the beginning of Christianity on Polish soil...

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Marcin Marciniak and Jan Sapiński did not suppose that the morning of 3 May 1909 would bring anything special and change their lives in any way whatsoever. While our working in a field, after the plough hit something, one of them found a hard object. The vessel, enveloped in clay, turned out to be one of the most valuable preserved monuments of the artistic craft of pre-Romanesque art, associated with the beginning of Christianity on Polish soil. After handing it over to the Łopieński brothers’s workshop in Warsaw, it regained its former splendour – a forged silver gilded goblet carved out of one piece of silver appeared before their very eyes.
The medallions on the goblet tell the story of Israel’s liberation from Midianite bondage by Gideon. The scenes on the vessel show the contents of the Old Testament story in great detail (the intention was to present all the important episodes of the cycle as equivalent links in the history of Gideon) – and this is what makes the goblet unique. On western late-antiquity and early medieval vessels, scenes from the Old and New Testament usually refer to over a dozen of the most important events, whose selection was sanctified by tradition, and only in rare cases do they bring a continuous sequence of images connected by a uniform theme (for example in the passion cycle).
This unique find, thanks to the canon of the Włocławek chapter, was sent to the National Museum in Kraków initially as a deposit, to become its property the very same year. Currently, it is one of the most valuable monuments of artistic handicraft stored in the museum’s collections.

Gideon’s fleece – what lies behind the story written on the goblet?

The narrative, inscribed within four medallions on the goblet, as well as the triangular space between them, retells the story of Gideon (a biblical Israeli judge) from the moment of his appointment by God (scenes with the Angel), miracles related to the wool fleece (called Gideon’s fleece in accordance with the tradition) – which became soaked with dew after being laid down on the threshing floor, while the ground around it remained dry, and conversely the next day the fleece remained dry on the ground moist with dew – and finally, the victory Gideon attained over the Midianites.

Features of the style – how does it work?

The mode of presentation involving, inter alia, the characteristic connection of the head and shoulders with the body, eyes with large pupils and marked eyelids, unevenly sized figures which overlap or pile up in conventional gestures, all breathe life into the Old Testament story. The subordination of the arrangement, shape and proportions of the figures to the shape of the composition field is an expression of the anti-classical artistic attitude (classicism in art meant, among other things, the preservation of harmony and perfect proportions in the images of the body).

What techniques were used to create the goblet?

The decorations on the goblet were intricately fashioned using the technique of engraving (application of a pattern onto a smooth surface with a chisel), puncturing (shaping the surface by making depressions and adding the right texture to obtain more distinctive decoration) and nielloing (filling ornamental engravings in the metal surface with a mass consisting of silver sulphides, sulphur, copper and lead as well as polishing the resulting drawing of black, deep dark sapphire or navy blue colour, contrasting with the background).

A liturgical goblet? Treasures from the workshop in St. Gallen

The contents of the depictions on the goblet (Old Testament Gideon’s story), as well as its shape, indicates that it was a liturgical vessel. The goblet probably had handles, as evidenced by one of the traces on the vessel.
Goblets of a similar shape were commonly used during this period in the Eastern Church. In the late Middle Ages this form was supplanted by a chalice shaped like a bowl on a foot, present in the Latin liturgy to this day.
The centre in St. Gallen with the Benedictine abbey, from which the goblet probably came (as evidenced by the manner of performances and the use of solutions typical of anti-classical attitudes), was recognized as one of the most important European centres of monastic art and culture in the 9th-11th centuries.

How did such a goblet arrive in Poland?

Perhaps it belonged to the liturgical instruments of the first priests – probably the Benedictine monks – who brought the vessel to Poland.

Elaborated by Editorial team of Małopolskas Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

See also: Włocławek cup

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Discover the goblet step by step

What tales were engraved on the surface of the goblet? Who are the characters depicted on the dish? Thanks to the 3D technique, by turning the goblet, you can read the entire biblical story recorded in the Old Testament Book of Judges. We invite you to read and wander through the details and secrets of this precious object.
 

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What tales were engraved on the surface of the goblet? Who are the characters depicted on the dish? Thanks to the 3D technique, by turning the goblet, you can read the entire biblical story recorded in the Old Testament Book of Judges. We invite you to read and wander through the details and secrets of this precious object.
The following scenes were captured on the goblet:
 

SCENE 1. Appointment of Gideon (Jg 6: 1–2)
We can see here two phases of meeting with an angel: in one, Gideon, leaning on wooden forks (detached from work in the field), reaches out his hand to the angel. In the second, the angel is holding out a cane with which he touches the burned sacrifice, so that Gideon would believe in the truth of the mission.

SCENE 2. The first miracle with a rune (Jg 6: 36—38) 
Gideon ascended the altar of God (at his command), and demolished Baal’s altar. The Midianites and Amalechites came near the abodes of the Israelites and set out their camp. Gideon, preparing for a trial with them, demanded a new sign from God: he wanted for the dew to flow onto the fleece on earthen floor.

SCENE 2b. God fulfilled his request—Gideon squeezes dew from the fleece (Jg 6.38)

SCENE 2c. The first miracle was not enough—Gideon prays for the second miracle with the fleece (Judge 6,39)

SCENE 3. A selection of 300 soldiers (Ex. 7,4–7)
Gideon assembled an army, but God instructed him to dismiss a part of it — he ordered him to lead the soldiers over the water, and there, according to the manner in which soldiers quench their thirst, choose those who will stand by his side. Three hundred soldiers who drank water, lifting it to their mouths with their hands, remained with Gideon. The goblet captures the moment in which Gideon looks at the soldiers: one is drinking from the palm of his hand, the other is bending over the stream.

SCENE 4. A prediction of Gideon’s victory (Ex. 7,9–14)
Before the battle, Gideon and his servant Fara (Pura), at the command of God, sneaked into the Midianite camp to hear the prophecy of their victory there. The vessel captures the moment in which one of the Midianites sits on the ground while the other, bent over, is describing his dream, whose meaning is explained by a seated soldier (the dream predicted the victory of Gideon’s army).

SCENE 5. The prophetic dream of the Madianite (Jg 7:13)
In a dream vision, a sleeping warrior saw the Madianite encampment — tents and heads of camels, and above them a loaf of barley bread that rolled destroying the camp.

SCENE 6. Surprising the Midianites by Gideon’s army (Jg. 7: 19–21)
Gideon surprised the sleeping Midianites with the sound of trumpets and the splendour of the torches they had extracted from hiding. The goblet captures the moment in which we see three soldiers holding blades in their hands. The middle one (most likely Gideon) smashes the vessel from which he is taking out the hidden torch.

SCENE 7. Fight in the Midianite camp (Jg 7,22)
Terrified by noise and light, the Midianite troops trampled each other in confusion. On the left side, the warrior pierces with the spear one of his companion, who falls to the ground. One of Gideon’s soldiers emerges from the back, blowing a horn.

SCENE 8. Chase after the Midianites (Jg 7,23) or killing the Madianic chiefs (Jg 7,24–25)
The Midianites left the camp and the Israelites went in pursuit. Gideon sent envoys to the tribe of the Ephraimites, asking for help in the further battle. They captured and lost the Madianite chiefs: Oreb and Zeba. On the vessel, we can see two soldiers who are piercing the Madianites with spears (probably Oreb and Zeb). The sitting figure (perhaps it is Gideon) is holding out his right hand in a gesture of order.

 

Elaborated by Editorial team of Małopolskas Virtual Museums,

Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

See Włocławek cup in Małopolskas Virtual Museums collection.

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Włocławek cup

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