The present hybrid is a fascinating example of the 19th century taste for gothic art, both in its genuine and its counterfeit manifestations. It belonged to the remarkable collection formed by Hollingworth Magniac, which was sold in these Rooms in 1554 lots over a period of eleven days in 1892. Magniac's father is known to have been a silversmith, and it is tempting to wonder whether he may not have been responsible for the upper half of the present piece, which is clearly 19th century, but surmounts a perfectly genuine 14th century Sienese or Florentine chalice. Only the applied shield bearing the Medici palle (balls) would appear to be a later addition designed to enhance the piece's value.
The earliest record we have of the ensemble comes in Philip de la Motte's catalogue of the 1850 exhibition (de la Motte, loc. cit.), where it is described as 'A gothic monstrance in silver enriched with tabernacle work and figures of saints. The foot on which it has been placed is of the 15th century'. Perhaps significantly, no date for the upper half is specified.
The catalogue of the Magniac sale in 1892 gives a different account, based on Sir Charles Robinson's 'Notice of the principal Works of Art in the Collection of HOLLINGWORTH MAGNIAC, ESQ., of Colworth' of 1862. The piece is thought to date from three distinct periods, 'having evidently been reconstructed from the remains of two other pyxes or monstrances, during the 17th or early part of the last century'. It is further specifed that 'The upper part of the tabernacle... is again of two different epochs and schools; the one Flemish or French, circa 1490, the other a debased Gothic style of the 17th century'. It is not easy to grasp why Robinson, whose connoisseurship was of the highest distinction, should have wished to differentiate between these two materially and stylistically homogenous sections of the upper part of the piece, while at the same time failing to notice that older figural elements have been inserted into a predominantly new architecture.
Unseen since its appearance at the Magniac sale, comparison with the photograph in the catalogue reveals that it has survived the intervening century almost intact.
We are grateful to Dottoressa Anna Maria Massinelli and Clive Wainwright for assistance in cataloguing this lot.