A SMALL ...
& RARE ..."TASTING
For much of 2019,
this circa 1640-70 2.5 inch silver cup (now 'spoken for')
has held honor as symbol for our "New & Incoming Catalog".
Perhaps it is because this cup also represents
an old and wonderful aspect of thought ...
one becoming about as rare as the cup itself.
ITS STORY IS INDEED SYNONYMOUS WITH THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT :
that of "SHARING".
Particularly since the advent of the internet, today's culture has growingly
found the need to copyright,
to protect, and to own
both concepts (intellectual property), and products.
However, many years ago,
there was a very different view of
THIS SMALL CUP IS A PART OF THAT TIME ...
AND OF THAT STORY.
This is a communal vessel, known as a "tasting cup", or "bernegal"
(a footed cup for drinking with a wide mouth and undulating form).
It was passed around the table for the mutual
"sharing of sips of wine".
Its construction is definitely Portuguese, of the late 1500s and early 1600s.
Note below the hollow bladed stem extending through the foot -
However, the cup was deemed by a Fellow of London's Goldsmiths Hall to be British.
I thought, "How odd! And how lovely!"
Upon inquiring further, I was reminded of the tremendous connections
between England and Portugal
in the 17th century -
in fact theirs the longest trade record in history.
As a result, quite a few pieces of distinctly British silver
were constructed in the exact Portuguese
form and manner
from the late 1500s through the mid 1600s.
As much early 17th silver was unmarked (or marks lost), the
"British" nature of this cup
could only be determined by the depth of the punched decoration
("too deep" for Portuguese),
and the early pricked initials E over WH
(there is no 'W' in Portuguese).
And it is a bit heavier than most Portuguese examples.
No further differences were cited.
Further exploration of the Portuguese form revealed
a remarkable breadth of geography - & material :
Residing at the Prado in Madrid, Spain, are
three "rare rock crystal bernegals", 1575-1660, made in Milan, Italy,
and having belonged to the Grand Dauphin Louis, son of Louis XIV of France,
and father of king Philip V of Spain - one shown below.
Further related forms were made possibly in Prague, Czechoslovakia,
then under the Hapsburg dynasty
As well, a golden example was retrieved in the Florida Keys by Mel Fisher (1980)
from the Spanish sunken vessel Santa Margarita, 1622...
and a painting attributed to Spain's Juan de Zurbarán,
"A Basket of Fruit with (Ceramic) Bernegal" c1645,
pictured below :
That is 4 materials and 5 countries so far - a 6th if you count Florida -
before telephones, or cameras or internet.
It seems that prior to the 19th century,
"IDEAS AND CONCEPTS"
were freely shared between nations and cultures,
(save a few guarded secrets
as the Chinese wishing not to reveal that worms were the actual source of silk,
and Augustus the Strong's overly-avid secrecy regarding his pet "porcelain").
instance, Thomas Chippendale's three published editions of
"The Gentleman's Director",
with optional designs - often even measured drawings - to guide other cabinetmakers :
The reward, the receipt of monetary funds, and the "signature"
- the "trademark" so to speak -
remained in the artisan's skill and painstaking
(including the many sacrifices and disciplines
that went into producing the objects themselves).
Money was then the by-product ... rather than the goal.
That order was reversed by the industrial revolution and mass production
of the 19th and 20th
'Profit' and the protective 'copyright' have slowly become the focus.
Even printing a Christmas song in a church bulletin can now be an involved and expensive endeavour.
Further 21st century values have idealized speed, convenience and
'creative novelty' -
at the additional expense of quality and excellence..
And "sharing" seems relegated to the likes of social media and nachos!
Common sense certainly tells us that someone somewhere
will always want to claim what someone else has
And certainly the world cannot move backwards in time.
However, the hope remains that
a wise, beneficial and more expansive
"spirit of sharing"
( especially of mankind's finer cultural creations )
can someday, in some form,
Who knows just what might emerge!**
This small Christmas thought
was brought to you by this still smaller silver cup.
And, perhaps some of us can find such a small cup
to pass at one of our holiday dinners,
beginning a new tradition,
recalling the "best" of the "old",
Again ... who knows what might emerge!
& A MERRY CHRISTMAS TOAST to ALL!
** The artistic and cultural concerns regarding the trend of protection
of what was intended as public property have prompted many museums
(including the Cleveland Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, and National Gallery)
to make their collections
"public domain" -
for mutual sharing - and all the pleasures that attend.
A list of the museums with
"Open Access" is
We celebrate their
Footnotes to the above images :
"Rock crystal drinking vessel with birds, fruit and scroll-shaped handles", 1590 - 1610,
Rock crystal / Hyaline quartz, Enamel, Gold;
Prado, Madrid, Spain,
image by permission.
Other Prado examples,
available on their website :
Golden Bernegal, found in the Florida Keys by Mel Fisher (1980)
from the Spanish sunken vessel Santa Margarita, 1622
Attributed to Juan de Zurbarán, "A Basket of Fruit with Bernegal", Spain, c1645,
Collection of Masaveu Bodegó;
Preparatory drawing for Thomas Chippendale's 'Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director';
Published in reverse as plate XLIX in the 1754 and 1755 editions,
not reprinted in the 1762 edition;