Byzantine Silver Bucket

Vrap (it means ‘running’ in Albanian) is a town located in Albania about 20 km south of Tirana, the country’s capital town. In 1901, in the Vrap area, near the ancient city of Durazzo and Via Egnatia, an exceptional hoard of silver and gold was discovered within a buried copper cauldron. This amazing treasure, known today as the Vrap Treasure is over twelve pounds of gold and three pounds of silver, including ten silver or gold vessels; thirty gold belt fittings; parts of a golden candlestick; and several gold bars and strips! My favourite amongst them is a Byzantine Silver Bucket! p. 36

The Byzantine Silver Bucket from Albania is a deep, footed Bowl with geometric, beaded, diamond patterns around the exterior. Set within the diamonds are birds, flowers, and various other objects, like palmettes, baskets, urns, and edifices(?). The design executed in the repoussé technique is simple but well-finished by an accomplished Byzantine provincial silversmith. Was the Vrap Silver Bucket an incense censer or was it used for drawing water? There is no definite answer.

The Vrap Treasure: Silver Bucket (Detail of the Byzantine Seal), 600s, Silver, 18.4×14.1 cm, 481g, the MET, NY, USA and

Scholars have been debating for years over the owner of the Vrap Treasure, and the identity of the silversmiths who created its artifacts. One thing is certain, the Vrap Treasure includes only two objects that most scholars today would describe as Byzantine: the discussed Silver Bucket, and a silver pitcher, both with what appear to be imperial control stamps. The stamp on the Bucket looks hexagonal (?), possibly containing a monogram, but no inscription can be traced. It is also difficult to say whether the stamp was applied before or after the vessel was decorated. and

The ”archaeology” of the Treasure’s discovery is best described by J. Strzygowski in 1917… An Albanian farmer near Vrap . . . uncovered in a field a copper kettle which he appropriated, and concerning himself little with the contents, he sold it, for a pair of medschidjes, to three Albanians, who brought it to their residence tower in the vicinity of Arbõna, a place to the north of Vrap . . . The subsequent attainment of individual pieces dragged on for about five years, in part under romantic circumstances. There would be no scholarly interest in going into more detail. The Vrap Treasure, including the Byzantine Silver Bucket, was bought by J. Pierpont Morgan on April 4, 1912. In 1917 the Vrap Treasure was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Why these varied objects were brought together remains a mystery. Some scholars have suggested that the objects were part of a treasure belonging to an Avar chief; others have speculated that they were the property of an Avar craftsman. It will be interesting to know… and file:///C:/Users/aspil/Downloads/The_Arts_of_Byzantium_The_Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art_Bulletin_v_58_no_4_Sp ring_2001.pdf page 32

For a Student Activity, please… Check, HERE!

The Vrap Treasure, 600s (bucket)–700s, Gold and Silver, the MET, NY, USA

Breck, Joseph, and Meyric R. Rogers, The Pierpont Morgan Wing: A Handbook. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1925. p. 35, fig. 15, ill. p. 36.

Melanie Holcomb, Ugly but . . . important’: the Albanian Hoard and the making of the archaeological treasure in the early twentieth century: The making of the archaeological treasure, page 11

Dodd, Erica Cruikshank. Byzantine Silver Stamps. Washington: J. J. Augustin, 1961. no. 88, pp. 246–247

Brown, Katharine R., Dafydd Kidd, and Charles T. Little, ed. From Attila to Charlemagne: Arts of the Early Medieval Period in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. p. 185, 343, fig. 18,16.7.

Silver Flabellum in the Collection of the Dumbarton Oaks

Flabellum, 565 – 578, silver and gilding, 30.9 x 24.77 x 1.91 cm, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, USA

flabellum (plural flabella), in Christian liturgical use, is a fan, made of metal, leather, silk, parchment, or feathers, intended to keep away insects from the consecrated Body and Blood of Christ and from the priest, as well as to show honour. The Apostolic Constitutions, a work of the fourth century, state (VIII, 12): “Let two of the deacons, on each side of the altar, hold a fan, made up of thin membranes, or of the feathers of the peacock, or of fine cloth, and let them silently drive away the small animals that fly about, that they may not come near to the cups.”. The 6th century Silver Flabellum in the Collection of the Dumbarton Oaks is not only liturgical but a work of great art as well!

The Bliss-Tyler Correspondence, always fascinating, provides two references to the purchase of the Silver Flabellum/ Rhipidion (in Greek)/Fan of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection by Robert Woods Bliss in 1936, in Paris, France. The first reference is made in a letter dated February 1, 1936…  I’m much excited about your recent acquisitions. Hurrah for the Drey cross! And for the Rhipidion (fan). And I’m prepared to enthuse about the pyx when I see it or a photo. The second reference is dated March 6, 1936… The rhipidion (flabellum) is certainly early VIe cent. The hallmarks make that certain, and the style is perfectly consistent. and

Riha Silver Group, 6th century AD, silver and gilding, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, USA

During the turbulent years (7th century) of the Sasanian and then the Arab invasions of Syria, devoted Christians buried a precious collection of liturgical vessels for safekeeping, hoping they will be able to reclaim them when peace would have prevailed. The silver Rhipidion, along with an amazing Paten and a Chalice, all three of them in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection today, were discovered at Riha, a small village south of Aleppo in central Syria. It has been written by Stephen Zwirn of the Dumbarton Oaks, that the Riha Treasure along with silver treasures from nearby Stuma, Hama, and Antioch were discovered at about the same time, and it has been suggested that these hoards actually constituted one large group brought together for protective burial, which was divided into smaller sets after it was unearthed early in the twentieth century. The original owners never came back to retrieve their treasures… and thus, many centuries later, they ended up in different Museums and private collections around the world! and

The Riha chalice, paten, and fan were each impressed, writes Stephen Zwirn, with stamps that indicate the emperor’s reign during which they were made. The chalice was fabricated during the reign of Justinian I (527–65), while the paten and fan belong to the reign of his successor, Justin II (565–78)… They form a set for use in the Orthodox Eucharist, or Communion: the paten held the leavened bread, still a tradition in Orthodox worship, the chalice contained the wine, and the fan was used to keep insects away from the bread and the wine. It has been suggested that they were produced in Constantinople and purchased by Megalos and Nonnous, a couple named in the inscription of the paten, for presentation to a church in Syria soon after 577. and file:///C:/Users/aspil/OneDrive/Blog/Byzantium/Age_of_Spirituality_Late_Antique_and_Early_Christian_Art_Third_to_Seventh_Century.pdf pages 617-18

Flabellum (detail), 565 – 578, silver and gilding, 30.9 x 24.77 x 1.91 cm, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, USA

The silver Flabellun/Rhipidion/Fan in the Dumbarton Oaks is engraved with sixteen peacock feathers around its scalloped rim. On its central disk, the 6th-century silversmith, engraved a tetramorph cherubim, the four-winged creature described in Ezekiel 1:4–21. The same tetramorph has been, summarily, engraved on the reverse side as well. The luxury of all liturgical vessels discovered in Syria indicates the splendor of the Early Christian Church Service, and the magnificent silver Rhipidion in particular, the ceremonial status altar fan had during the Orthodox Eucharist or Communion Service. file:///C:/Users/aspil/OneDrive/Blog/Byzantium/Age_of_Spirituality_Late_Antique_and_Early_Christian_Art_Third_to_Seventh_Century.pdf pages 617-18

For a Student Activity inspired by the Silver Flabellum in the Collection of the Dumbarton Oaks, please… Check HERE!