Silver gilt cup from Texel shipwreck restored

A silver gilt cup found in the wreck of 17th century merchant ship in the Wadden Sea near the island of Texel, northern Holland, has been restored and put on display at the Kaap Skil Museum on Texel.

It was one of more than a thousand objects recovered from the wreck site in 2014 after shifting sediment exposed them to the elements. Centuries under layers of silt and sand in the cold waters of the Wadden Sea had preserved organic materials in astounding condition. High-end textiles were found in beautiful condition, including silk stockings, a red velvet pouch embroidered with silver thread, and a silk gown so exquisite that one professor described it as “the Night Watch of the costume world.”

Known as the boxwood wreck, after its cargo of boxwood timbers, or Texel wreck, it was carrying artifacts of such exceptional quality that there was immediate speculation that it might have been transporting members of aristocracy, perhaps even royalty, or at least their stuff. A leather book cover stamped in gold with the coat of arms of King Charles I suggested a Stuart connection and in the initial excitement of the find, the silk gown was identified as having belonged to Jean Kerr, Countess of Roxburghe, lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria. That hypothesis was disproved when researchers discovered the dress was made in Northwestern Europe, not England.

The most recent findings of the ongoing study into the wreck, announced at the Rijksmuseum last Thursday when the show cup was unveiled, point to the ship having been a Dutch trade vessel traveling from the Levant and Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar. Its cargo attests to its voyages — boxwood trunks, French and Italian pottery, caftans from the Ottoman Empire, a Persian rug,

The silver gilt cup was also made in continental Europe, likely southern Germany. The cities of Nuremberg and Augsburg were known for their silversmiths who produced show cups like this. Unfortunately the seal that would precisely pinpoint the shop where it was made is missing, but the style of the cup dates it to the late 16th century, so at least 50 years before the ship’s last voyage, estimated to have taken place about 1650.

When it was recovered from the water, the metal cup was in worse shape than the fine silk stockings. It was broken into three pieces and and severely dented, coated in heavy black corrosion. Most of the dents were repairable, thankfully, and the thick crust of corrosion was removed. Restorers worked on it for four years to reveal the intricate details of its decoration. It chased and molded with floral motifs, vases and masks. Standing on the lid is a figurine of Mars. He would have originally held a shield, now lost.

The sometime showpiece is now a showpiece once again, on display from March 9th to September 9th at the museum’s exhibition of select objects from the boxwood wreck. The 450-page report on the wreck, Wereldvondsten uit een Hollands schip (World finds from a Dutch ship, according to the always questionable Google Translate) is available for sale at the museum. I couldn’t find it online, much to my disappointment, because I would nerd out all over that.


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Comment by Trevor
2019-03-12 05:34:31

While the Countess of Roxburghe connection was always a bit tenuous, I cannot accept that the dress could not have been hers simply because it was made in northwestern Europe and not England. This was a trade ship, bringing stuff from far places because not everyone wants all their stuff made locally, of local materials.

If a countess spent time in northwestern Europe, why could she not have a dress made there?

Comment by Hels
2019-03-12 06:08:01

Imagine being there when the treasures were unearthed *sighs happily* The photos are small, but the cup still looks great. I agree with Augsburg or Nuremberg, but not so much with the 16th century estimate. 1620-50 seems fair.

Comment by livius drusus
2019-03-12 16:26:06

Scott Glen Young is right, Hels. I am obsessed with getting the largest photographs available. Click on any thumbnail in any post and you’ll be able to see a high-resolution version of the picture.

I have zero expertise in the area so I’m curious to hear more about the stylistic criteria that indicate the age of the cup.

Comment by Magical
2019-03-12 11:25:04

Yes, the translation was correct – though “wereldvondsten” also has a secondary meaning – in Dutch something that is “werelds” is something amazing – so it could be read as amazing finds as a subtitle, which would also be entirely correct and probably done on purpose as they like to do that kind of thing.

If only I was in better health I’d make the journey up north and go see these things in person… unfortunately I’d be exhausted just getting there by public transport (it’s good here but still too much for me to do any more).

Comment by Cor Leone
2019-03-12 12:31:54

Frankly, I simply lack the expertise, but the goblin being sorced from southern Germany might well be (even if I would personally not be able to tell, what similar pieces from e.g. Antwerp would be supposed to look like).

The GNM in Nuremberg have a German Renaissance table centrepiece in form of a ship model from prior to 1503 on display, as well as a couple of goblins, of which some feature a similar Mars (plus shield!) on top.

P.S.: Magical, you are not in Zeeland, are you?

Comment by livius drusus
2019-03-12 16:27:23

Wowsa, that Mars is very much reminiscent of the Texel one, isn’t he? Thank you for the links.

Comment by Scott Glen Young
2019-03-12 13:55:42

The photos are interactive and enlarge when you click on them. Took me a little while to figure that out.

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August 2020


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