Judith is tanked

05 Apr

Are these titles suggesting a theme … or is it just me?


Tankard from Scandinavia and Russia, 1680-1699, Silver, gilt, nielloed and engraved, 18.2 x 20.2 x 16 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK


Oh those Russians!  It appears they took a Scandinavian tankard and applied a Greek technique to produce this opulent vessel for drinking.  The technique is called “niello” — created by pressing and melting a black compound of silver, copper or lead sulphides into engraved lines on a silver surface to produce a dramatic contrast between the black decoration and shiny silver, creating intricate plant and flower patterns on metal.  In Moscow, the technique was influenced by Greek jewellers who arrived in the 1660s and brought the Turkish method to the Russian goldsmiths.

But enough about metalwork.  The important part is the subject of the decoration: a background of a Turkish-inspired carpet of tiny flowers and leaf tendrils in which sits engraved birds, and four Old Testament scenes from the Bible.  The selection of these scenes always fascinates me, trying to understand what the artist or client was trying to express with the themes that include Judith.  Sometimes it’s biblical victors (David, Joshua, etc.), sometimes it’s biblical heroines (Jael, Susannah, etc.), and sometimes it’s just … I dunno.  In this case it’s Judith and Holofernes (at the front), Samson and Delilah (on one side), the Temptation of Joseph (on the other side) and the Judgement of Solomon (on the lid).  So probably some virtues the drinker wished to extoll while he was slogging his ale — with the wisdom of Solomon being his last view when he closed the lid for the evening.

Or maybe his wife made him add the Judith part to make up for the weak-willed Samson?

See you at the V&A!

1 Comment

Posted by on April 5, 2015 in Exploring


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One response to “Judith is tanked

  1. lentonist

    April 5, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    Really ought to go to the V&A one day! I believe the (fairly nearby) National Gallery has at least Judith painting on display which I saw last year.


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