An extremely rare Silver Gilt Standing Salt from the English Renaissance c.1550
The gilt base stands on three little ball feet. There is a central rock crystal tube inside which there is the gilt figure of Longinus, the Roman soldier who, according to legend, pierced Christ in the side with his spear to hasten his death when he was on the cross.
The rock crystal was almost certainly recycled from an earlier Catholic object. As Hugh Tait, a former curator at the British Museum, has observed, the large number of objects from the English Renaissance incorporating rock crystal suggests that this is rare, valuable material was salvaged by goldsmiths from Catholic Monstrances, reliquaries and other such religious objects that had been seized and broken up during the Reformation.
Surviving examples of these ‘architectural salts’ are extremely rare. There is an example in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston – See E.A Alcorn, ‘English Silver in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, vol 1, Silver before 1697’ Boston 1993, cat.no. 10 pp 58-60. In Helen Clifford’s book ‘A Treasured inheritance 600 years of Oxford College Silver’ an example of Trinity College is illustrated on page 75, plate 74. She explains that these salts were once common at high tables on Oxford. An inventory of 1592 from Exeter College refers to ‘one littler sale with a cover double gilt, a greater salt parcil gilt without a cover’. At Balliol in 1608 there was ‘a great white Salte without a cover, that is silver, unglided’.
Approx 4 inches tall and 3 1/4 inches in diameter across the top, and weighing 8 ounces approximately.