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An Exceptional Silver Drinking Cup Made Around 1180 to Be Sold at Sotheby's
A silver cup on foot, circa 1180, probably France. Est.300.000-400.000€. Photo: Sotheby's/ ArtDigital Studio.

PARIS.- Sotheby's sale of Important European Silver, Gold Boxes & Objects Vertu in Paris on May 17 will include an exceptional silver drinking cup made around 1180, probably in France (estimate €300,000–400,000*). No public or private collection holds a piece of such age and with this specific iconography.

The cup's decoration is spangled with astral symbols. The eight-branch star, the two circles around the basilisk, and the moon-like shapes evoke scientific works of the early medieval period, and portrayals of the heavens by Western and Oriental astrologists. The planet-like seeds can be interpreted as pomegranate seeds symbolizing fertility. The geometric design, and the creature engraved in the centre of the goblet, are typical of the early Middle Ages. The Basilisk features prominently in 12th/13th century imagery, but is rarer later. This dragon-like creature, known as the king of serpents and embodiment of evil, could petrify a man with its mere glance.

This motif indicates the use to which such cups (or hanaps) were put – most probably for drinking. The basilisk's presence at the bottom of the cup was designed to warn the drinker to act with restraint, i.e. not to drain the vessel to the end and so uncover the monster's image.

The cup's ornament leads to the heart of medieval thinking, both moralistic and mythic, embodied in the Book of Proverbs attributed to King Solomon – who was viewed in the Middle Ages as part-exorcist and part-magician, and thereby equal to the monster's threat. It was also around this time that the legend of King Arthur the Knights of the Round Table was written down… with the Round Table destined to receive The Holy Grail, a term designating a cup with a base and stem, like a goblet or chalice (possibly with cover), that first appeared around 1000 A.D.

Friday 13 May 10am-6pm
Saturday 14 May 10am-6pm
Monday 16 May 10am-6pm

* Estimates do not include buyer's premium

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