St. Trudpert Chalice in New York

A spectacular Medieval chalice, paten, and fistula, known in the United States as St. Trudpert’s Set, are on display alongside the Lindau Treasure and several other important Christian masterpieces at the Morgan Library, where they are a highlight of the “Imperial Splendor” exhibition. Trudpert’s impressive Medieval ensemble once belonged to the Tzar Alexander III, who purchased an important collection of Medieval artworks assembled by Alexander Petrovich Basilevsky – a wealthy Russian nobleman, diplomat, traveler, and one of the most active XIX c. art collectors. The chalice set was on display at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg until it was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for its Cloisters division in about 1947.

The chalice, paten, and fistula are elegantly wrought in parcel gilt silver with prominent and masterful use of the niello technique (note all figures and all text), with judicious and elegant gem incrustation, and a continuous plant filigree ornament on the body of the chalice. Due to its size and generous proportions, the chalice exudes a graceful monumentality that is normally rather difficult to achieve in the design of altar vessels. The chalice, the paten, and the fistula were crafted in the Abbey of St. Trudpert (region of Bavaria) in the early XIII c. by an anonymous master goldsmith who might also have been the designer. The complex iconographic program indicates that the mastermind behind the set was probably a religious, perhaps Abbott Konrad of St. Trudpert’s.

When working with chalice commissions a question often comes up about what makes a suitable sacred vessel – St. Trudpert’s set is an exceptionally fitting case study to address this question, because it is such a beautifully realized altar set. Rather than trying to name one specific quality, it is more effective to observe a harmonious fusion of liturgical, didactic, and aesthetic characteristics. Also, every element that makes up this set is unequivocal as to its purpose. Yet it is obvious that function as such is not the guiding principle. As in all Medieval art, the liturgico-theological layer become a dominant one. And it is reflected in a rich iconography that offers a profound mediation material.

The cup which is the most important component of the chalice features the Lord and the Twelve Apostles in niches. This architectural detail is meant to emphasize the stability of the teaching about the Eucharist and validity of the celebration of the Eucharist in an institutional setting. The nodus and the foot of the chalice feature medallions with scenes from the New Testament and the Old Testament respectively. The medallions are typologically related – the Old Testament prefiguring the New Testament ones. The chalice is further integrated with a use of niello phrases around Old Testament medallions and around the foot of the chalice. Here is a transcription of all phrases from Latin:

Base, around Brazen Serpent medallion: the serpent on the wood marks [where] Christ suffered on the Cross

Base, around Moses and Burning Bush medallion: the non-burning bush [is] the revelation of the angelic word

Base, around Aaron’s Rod medallion: the flowering rod bears fruit which produces a complete virgin

Base, around Noah’s Ark medallion: Noah’s Ark, baptism in the form of a flood

Around rim of base: the Lord says he who devours my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I [remain] in him [John 6:57]

The paten includes a loped interior organized around paten proper which is the polished gold, undecorated round surface in the center. The figures on the paten include Lord Jesus Christ at the top and St. Trudpert the Martyr at the opposite side (this figurative detail helped to narrow down the provenance of this set). On the left, Abel and on the right Melchizedek. The black niello on both the paten and the chalice lend elegance to the entire ensemble and also give it what later became termed a German character, an aesthetic of black and gold rather than colorful enamel so prominent in France and England. Text on the paten reads around the rim: ‘the bread which you blessed is now the flesh of Christ. If you truly believe, may you have eaten this so that it may be your flesh.’

The fistula or the liturgical straw were used to consume consecrated wine from the chalice and to prevent spillage. It is quite rare that the fistula survived almost 800 years without being lost. It seems that the first guardians of the chalice set were the Abbey monks. Later, it was the care of discerning art collectors, who ensured that the pieces were properly maintained, that safeguarded this elegant set for the edifications of our generation.

Photography Credits: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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