Treasure of Gourdon

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Gold chalice, with garnet and turquoise, from the Treasure of Gourdon Cabinet des Médailles, Paris

The Treasure of Gourdon (Trésor de Gourdon), unearthed near Gourdon, Saône-et-Loire, in 1845, is a hoard of gold, the objects dating to the end of the fifth or beginning of the sixth century, which was secreted soon after 524. When it was found, the hoard comprised a chalice and a rectangular paten, that were similarly applied with garnets and turquoises in cloisonné compartments, together with about a hundred gold coins dating from the reigns of Byzantine emperors Leo I (457–474) through that of Justin I (518–527). The Merovingian king Clovis I converted to Christianity in 496; the chalice and paten might be called early Merovingian or late Gallo-Roman.

The treasure is preserved in the Cabinet des Médailles, Paris, a department of the Bibliothèque nationale.

In the sixth century, Gourdon was the site of a monastery, whence these objects may have come. The latest date among the coins that were part of the hoard can be fixed at circa 524. The treasure may have been hastily buried in anticipation of a raid. Its recovery was fortuitous: a shepherd girl, Louise Forest, discovered it below a Roman tile engraved with a cross. The treasure was sold at auction in Paris, 20 July 1846, when the paten and chalice were acquired by the State, whereas the documentary coins were dispersed and lost to view.

The paten from Gourdon

The chalice is small, 7.5 cm tall, standing on a truncated conical base, with two handles that take the form of a highly stylized bird that is recognizable solely by its beak and the garnets that form its eyes. The body of the chalice has a reverse-gadrooned base under a wide slightly spreading upper section set with a decor of applied gold scrolls and cloisonné garnets and turquoises cut in the forms of hearts and palmettes.

The shape of the chalice may be compared to the canthares of ceramic or metal in common use among the Romans for wine cups. By contrast, the decoration is "barbarian", in both iconography and technique, typically light and portable, and employing the cloisonné technique. Comparable bird motifs may be traced in Visigoth, Lombard and Merovingian metalwork.

The rectangular paten is 19.5 cm by 12.5 cm, and 1.6 cm deep. It presents a border of cloisonné garnets, a central cross in garnets and four corner motifs of turquoise. The cross unequivocally identifies the ensemble as Christian.

The 520s in eastern Gaul witnessed the war against the Burgundians that was waged by the four successors of Clovis. It came to a decisive end with the Battle of Vézeronce, in 524, with a conclusive Burgundian defeat.