BYZANTINE SILVER

The rarity of genuine pieces of plate made in the days when art was being settled according to the newer ideas makes it very difficult to be at all sure of the uses to which the first examples were put. It is clear, however, that most of those pieces which have been preserved were made for purposes of worship ; and their forms would be established after some earlier attempts had been made to adapt the then existing patterns of vessels used for sacred uses to the purposes of the newly established religion of Christ. The priests of pagan deities had received contributions of jewels and of plate for the adornment of their altars and temples and from these would be made vessels for the sacred purposes of worship in the early Christian churches, and for the adornment of the buildings. Mr. Hungerford Pollen, in his well known work in which he wrote many interesting descriptions of the art treasures of the South Kensington Museum, says that the Abyssinian chalice, one of the rarest national treasures in old plate, it represents the shape of these early vessels better than any others still in use." That chalice is of gold, and no doubt it was made according to the form of the chalices used in the sacramental rites of the early Christian churches. The traditional cup used by Our Lord at the Last Supper has often been the subject of discussion and enquiry. There is, however, no reason to assume that in form and ornament it was other than an ordinary drinking vessel of a pattern then in use, and it is very likely that when the Christians instituted the rite of communion they would fashion the cup they afterwards enriched with jewels and choice workmanship after the pattern of an ancient drinking vessel ; we have, therefore, in the cup a vessel which more nearly than any other follows the type of drinking cup in use among the ancients. Needless to say, these ancient vessels of which so very few remain are not collectable curios, and centuries had to roll by before silversmiths began to make domestic plate of sterling silver. References to the silver of the Byzantine period are but introductory to the work of the silversmiths in the Middle Ages, that time during which although " dark " the church kept up the continuity of worship and of ecclesiastical ornament which it preserved and handed on to the laity when society was ready to accept silverware among its domestic possessions. The distinctions between the forms of vessels in everyday use in the baronial hall and in the castles of the wealthy and those used in religious houses were very trifling, and perhaps consisted mostly in decorations and inscriptions rather than in form ; even these, however, differed little, for the religious mottoes of the priests became the common property of the people, and were used by them on pottery and silver, and in Tudor times were cut into the oaken beams of their houses. The Middle Ages proper may be termed those days which preceded the Mediaeval art which culminated in the Tudor art in England, rather than the times when the two extremes met, for they undoubtedly overlapped. The influence of Eastern art as exemplified in the typical Byzantine ornament may be said to have extended from the decline of the Roman Empire until the Reformation, when the power of the Pope of Rome was thrown off and the emancipation of Mediaeval England was complete. Eastern ideas were fully appreciated at Constantinople, for they seem to accord with the idea to make the city beautiful and grand in ornament and decoration. Enamels enriched with jewelled ornament covered the plainer parts of vessels used in the palaces, and jewels shone upon the altar plate in almost barbarian richness. It was from Byzantium that so much that was beautiful was derived. In course of time Gothic art was evolved. Its great beauty is best realised in the splendid cathedrals and in the abbeys and wondrous buildings erected during the Middle Ages, in this country and on the Continent of Europe, which have been the admiration of the connoisseurs of art for so many generations. Alas ! many of these piles which showed the mastery of Gothic art acquired by builders and architects on the Continent have perished after defying Time and its ravages during the recent War, which has turned the world upside down and during which civilisation as it were has been suspended. The plate which until recently reposed in the churches and cathedrals of France and Belgium has mostly been saved, although the buildings have perished, and perhaps ere long these pieces may be seen by the public in museums and other places, although it would be better if they could be used for their original purposes and in their ancient homes-restored. These relics will be regarded with interest in years to come-they will recall grim stories of battle and destruction.