Silver Bucket

unknown600 AD - 650 AD

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Vienna, Austria

Part of a hidden treasure, this magnificent silver bucket was discovered in 1814 during ploughing at Kuczurmare. It contained seven silver bowls as well as a slightly larger silver cauldron. These vessels were originally undecorated, but two bowls were later incised with a small cross. While the bowls and cauldron are believed to be of local origin, the bucket came from an official state workshop, probably in Constantinople. This assumption is reinforced by the five stamps on the underside of the vessel, which suggest that the bucket was produced in the years between 613 and 629/30 during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius (610 – 641 AD). From around 500 to ca. 650 AD it was customary in the Byzantine Empire to use control stamps as a guarantee of the fineness of silver.The marks show the portrait and monogram of the emperor in combination with the names of high-ranking officials and were usually stamped into a vessel before decoration. Originally fitted with a handle and richly decorated on all sides in embossed work with engraved and chased details, our bucket is a noteworthy example of the continuation of the pictorial tradition of heathen antiquity. Bordered at the top and bottom by laurel wreaths, the illustration shows three pairs of gods in flat relief. The side that is best preserved depicts Mars, the god of war, with shield and spear. Apart from his half-boots and a mantle fastened at his right shoulder he is naked. Venus, the goddess of love, hands him an apple. She is wearing a full-length, belted chiton with sleeves and a mantle fastened with a disc fibula; her head is covered with a Phrygian cap. The three balls on the ground belong to Hercules and Minerva, who join the couple from the right, and can be interpreted as the apples of the Hesperides, which Hercules had to procure as one of his Twelve Labours. The third pair of gods adorning this precious silver bucket is Apollo with his twin sister, Diana. © Kurt Gschwantler, Alfred Bernhard-Walcher, Manuela Laubenberger, Georg Plattner, Karoline Zhuber-Okrog, Masterpieces in the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2011


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