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26.06.2021

Royal Gold Cup

The Royal Gold Cup or St. Agnes Cup is a cup made of pure gold, richly decorated with enamel and pearls. It was made for the French royal family at the end of the 14th century and then belonged to several English monarchs, after which it remained in Spain for almost 300 years. It has been in the British Museum since 1892, where it is usually displayed in Room 40, and is widely considered to be the outstanding surviving example of a late medieval French plate. It has been described as "the only surviving royal splendor of the International Gothic period." According to Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, "of all the princely jewels and gold that have come down to us, this goblet is the most impressive - and that includes the great royal treasures.

The goblet is made of solid gold, is 23.6 cm (9.25 inches) high, has a diameter at its widest point of 17.8 cm (6.94 inches), and weighs 1.935 kg (4.26 pounds). It has a lid that is removable, but the triangular stand on which it once stood is now lost. The stem of the cup was lengthened twice by the addition of cylindrical bands, so that it was originally much shorter, giving the overall shape a "typically stout and chunky elegance." The original decorated knob or finial on the lid has been lost, and a molding decorated with 36 pearls has been removed from the outer edge of the lid; a gold band with irregular edges can be seen where it was attached. It presumably matches the one still in place around the foot of the cup.

The gold surfaces are decorated with basse-taille enamel scenes with translucent flowers that reflect light from the gold beneath; many areas of gold both beneath the enamel and in the background are decorated with engraving and pointillism. In particular, there are large areas of translucent red in the decoration, which have been preserved in excellent condition. This color, known as rouge clair, was the most technically challenging and was highly prized for this, as well as for the brilliance of the color when successfully executed. Scenes from the life of St. Agnes run across the top of the cover and the slanted bottom side of the main body. The symbols of the four evangelists are arranged around the foot of the bowl, and there are enamel medallions in the center of the inside of the bowl and cover. The lower of the two added bands contains Tudor enamel roses against a pointe background; this was apparently added under Henry VIII. The upper band has an engraved inscription filled with black enamel, with a barrier of green laurel branches to separate the end of the inscription from its beginning.

The cup came to the British Museum with a custom-made hexagonal leather case on a wooden frame, with an iron lock, handles, and mounts. It was made at the same time as the cup or shortly thereafter and has carved and stamped foliate decoration and an inscription in black letters: YHE.SUS.O.MARYA.O.MARYA YHE.SUS.

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