Unique medieval cup bought for London and Wiltshire
- British Museum
- 24 December 2013
The Lacock Cup, a secular masterpiece of medieval silverwork, has been acquired by the British Museum and Wiltshire Museum with help from the Art Fund.
Created in the 15th century for communal drinking at feasts, the cup was put into use as a church chalice after being donated to Saint Cyriac's in Lacock, the village in Wiltshire that gave the cup its name.
Despite its secular origins, the design of the cup – foregoing religious images in favour of clean lines and Gothic patterning – gave it new life as a religious vessel following the Reformation. The newly formed Protestant church's hostility towards religious iconography made the cup a perfect chalice for use at Eucharist.
While 'chalice-shaped' secular cups were popular in the late middle ages, most were destroyed as a result of changing fashions or to claim their value as bullion, making the Lacock cup a rare survivor. The quality of its craftsmanship is stunning, and despite centuries of use it remains in near-perfect condition with no apparent alterations to its original exterior.
The cup had been on long-term loan to the British Museum in 1962, forming the centrepiece of the museum's medieval displays, and until the 1980s it continued to be used for certain religious festivals at the church. This joint acquisition will give the British Museum greater flexibility to display the cup, as well as ensuring that the cup will be displayed regularly at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, less than 10 miles from Lacock.
Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said: 'We’re so pleased to have helped the British Museum and the Wiltshire Museum jointly acquire the Lacock cup after 51 years on loan in Bloomsbury. Thanks to both museums' strong network of national programme activity, this exquisite and important work of medieval silverware will be seen across the UK in the years to come.'
The cup was acquired jointly by the British Museum and the Wiltshire Museum with help from a £150,000 Art Fund grant, with additional support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, John Studzinski, the American Friends of the British Museum, the British Museum Friends, the Jean Sibley Bequest, the Charity Fund of International Partners Limited in memory of Melvin R Seiden, Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, the Headley Trust and individual contributions.
Watch our video about the Lacock Cup, below.