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Work Porphyry vase, known as Suger's eagle
Department of Decorative Arts: Middle Ages
© 1990 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet
Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis and adviser to Louis VI and Louis VII, took a particular interest in adding to the treasure held by his abbey. He wrote of finding this antique porphyry vase in a coffer and transforming it into a liturgical chalice by mounting it in the shape of an eagle. Suger commissioned a number of vessels in stone from goldsmiths working for the abbey, in this case most likely goldsmiths from the Ile-de-France region.
Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis (1122–1151), adviser to Louis VI and Louis VII, and later regent of the kingdom, rebuilt the abbey of Saint-Denis. Among the finest pieces commissioned for the new abbey were some remarkable liturgical vessels. Suger took inspiration from the writings of Dionysus the Aeropagite (Pseudo-Dionysus), then thought to be the same historical figure as Saint Denis, and shared his belief that the contemplation of precious artefacts allows the soul to achieve transcendance and come closer to God.
Suger, patron of the arts
A number of the superb liturgical vessels commissioned by Suger survive: the agate chalice now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the sardonyx ewer, the rock crystal "Eleanor" vase named after Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the eagle chalice, all now in the Louvre. It is not known why Suger chose to give this antique porphyry vase found in a coffer a vermeil setting in the shape of an eagle.
Goldsmiths "from different regions"
Although the reasons for Suger's choice are not known with certainty, it seems likely that he was inspired by oriental vases shaped like animals or stylized eagle motifs on Byzantine fabrics. The liturgical vessels commissioned by Suger were made by goldsmiths from Lotharingia and the Ile-de-France, the region around Paris. It is quite possible that this particular work was made in the Ile-de-France. The remarkable realism of the eagle's head and the highly stylized plumage foreshadow certain features of Gothic art.
de Montesquiou-Fezensac B., Le trésor de Saint-Denis, Paris, 1973-1977, I et II, n° 28, III, p. 42-44.
Catalogue d’exposition : Le trésor de Saint-Denis, Paris, musée du Louvre, 12 mars – 17 juin 1991, notice 31 (Danielle Gaborit-Chopin).
« Le trésor de Saint-Denis », Les Dossiers de l’archéologie, n° 158, mars 1994.
« Suger’s liturgical Vessels », Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis, a Symposium, The Metropolitan Museum, New York, 1986, p. 283-293.
Vase: Egypt or imperial RomeMount: Saint-Denis, prior to 1147
Treasury of the abbey of Saint-Denis
Red porphyry, gilded silver, and niello
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Additional information about the work
"Inclu [di] Gemmis Lapis Iste Mere [t] Ur Et Auro/Marmor Erat Sed In His Marmore Carior Est" (This stone deserved to be set in gold and precious stones)