Chalice of Antioch

ANTIOCH, CHALICE OF. A large (7 1/2\" high) silver cup embossed with twelve portrait figures, launched on the world in 1916 by G. A. Eisen as a 1st cent. representation of Christ (twice), eight apostles and two evangelists. This dating and identification received the substantial support of J. Strzygowski and A. B. Cook, and the cup had a vogue as the actual vessel used at the Last Supper. It was exhibited, for example, at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. But while there is no doubt that it does portray Christ, most other claims made for it have been challenged. Since the circumstances of its discovery remain obscure, it has even been alleged to be a modern forgery. However, chemical tests support its antiquity, and the date must be settled on stylistic grounds. It comes from a time when the naturalistic portraiture of the Hel. age was giving way to the colorism of the Middle Ages, the human figures being subordinated to highly stylized ornament (in this case, vines). Following de Jerphanion’s thorough study, most authorities accepted the late 4th or early 5th cent. as its date. Eisen replied that the plain lining of the cup could still be the original chalice, later enclosed in the decorated outer shell, but it has been countered that the lining may itself be a later substitute for an original glass vessel. As for the portraits, it has been shown that the authentic tradition of Christ’s appearance was lost by the 2nd cent. The artistic types of Christ and the apostles were then slowly elaborated from unrelated Hel. models. The cup is now in the Cloisters Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York.

Bibliography

G. A. Eisen, AJA, XX (1916), 426-437; The Great Chalice of Antioch, 2 vols. (1923); A. B. Cook, Cambridge Review, XLV (1924), 213-216; G. de Jerphanion, Le Calice d’Antioche [=Orientalia Christiana, VII. 27] (1926); H. H. Arnason, “The History of the Chalice of Antioch,” BA, IV (1941), 50-64; V (1942), 10-16; J. Rorimer, “The Authenticity of the Chalice of Antioch,” Studies in Art and Literature for Belle da Costa Greene (1954), 161-168.