|Headwig Beaker, 12th century.|
Collection of The Corning Museum of Glass (67.1.11)
During my recent visit to the Corning Museum of Glass (at Corning, New York), I was happy to see the Museum's Hedwig beaker, which is a great example of this mysterious object type. Originating from the late 12th century, about 15 such beakers are known today, most stemming from church treasuries. Their name comes from their association with Saint Hedwig of Silesia. Several known pieces were mounted and transformed into reliquaries, and some of the most famous surviving pieces are still preserved in church treasuries: at Halberstadt cathedral, Minden cathedral and at the Wavel Cathedral in Krakow, as well as at Notre Dame d’Oignies in Namur (2 pieces). Important museum pieces are in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, the British Museum, and the Rijksmuseum, in addition to the Corning Museum's piece. The cut glass pieces are decorated with lions, griffins or eagles, and they seem to imitate rock crystal objects made in Fatimid Egypt. The origin of these small masterworks has been much debated: most likely they were made in Sicily, but other theories also exist. Ample literature can be found on the subject: the collection databases of the museums mentioned above or even the relevant Wikipedia article can be a starting point for further exploration. In fact, on the website of the Corning Museum of Glass, you can find an essay on these objects, written by David Whitehouse, as well as a nice video (see below).
|Drawing (with reconstruction) of the fragment|
from Buda castle. Budapest History Museum
It is important to mention that a fragment of a Hedwig beaker was also uncovered during excavations of the royal palace of Buda, the center of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary. Katalin Gyürky H., who had published the fragment, proposed that the object may have belonged to the royal treasury. Another of the beakers also has a Hungarian connection: the object in the Kunstsammlungen der Veste Coburg is said to have belonged to St. Elisabeth of Hungary (while some centuries later, it was in the possession of Luther). St. Elisabeth was the daughter of King Andrew II and Queen Gertrude - the latter being the sister of St. Hedwig of Silesia. Lack of early sources about these object prevent the creation of elaborate theories.
Naturally, the Corning Museum of Glass - which has one of the best collections of historic glass in the world - holds many other medieval treasures, including some pieces of stained glass as well as superb pieces of Islamic glass. One more object I would like to highlight is of a different nature: it is a 12th-century recipe book known as Mappae Clavicula. Among other things, it includes recipes for making colored glass. Held at the Rakow Research Library of the Corning Museum, the manuscript has been digitized and is accessible from the website.