Keir Pyx

January 31, 2003

Keir Pyx,Copper enamel,13th century, Limoges

 

An exquisite thirteenth-century Limoges enamel, the Keir pyx is a small, but precious vessel that was used for the storage and transportation of the consecrated Eucharistic host. The Duke University Museum of Art acquired the piece for its medieval collection at auction in 1997.

Made in or around Limoges, France, the center of the enamel industry from the eleventh through the fourteenth centuries, the Keir pyx is a fine example of the champlevÈ enameling technique. The artist-craftsman chiseled a delicate design of intertwined vines and flowers into a gilded copper container that measures only about four inches high. The empty spaces were then filled with powdered glass in gorgeous colors of deep blue, turquoise, green, red, white, and yellow. Exposed to high heat, the glass melted and, upon cooling, turned into the enamel that can still be admired in this well-preserved pyx. One of the keys to its brilliant craftsmanship lies in the fact that these individual areas of colored enamel exist side-by-side without blending together, even where there is no ribbon of copper to separate them.

The splendid Keir pyx was once part of a collection known as the best ensemble of medieval enamels in private hands, the Kofler-Truniger collection in Switzerland. Assembled immediately after World War II, the collection was sold in 1970 to a Hungarian, Edmund de Unger, who named it after his London house. The 1997 auction of the collection by Southeby's was one of the most prestigious and publicized events in the art world that year.

The pyx is now part of DUMA's renowned Brummer Collection of Medieval and Renaissance Art, named for Ernst Brummer, one of the foremost dealers of medieval art the U.S. has known. Duke acquired the collection in 1966 from Brummer's widow, Ella. The acquisition became the impetus for establishing the East Campus museum in 1969. Before the purchase of the Keir pyx, the Brummer Collection contained no examples of Limoges enamel. The Keir pyx was chosen because it fit in well with the many other medieval and liturgical objects in the collection, especially the marvelous fifteenth-century Italian marble tabernacle, attributed to Silverto dall' Agnola. The pyx is an early, medieval form of the Renaissance tabernacle, designed to house the host within an altarpiece in a church; the Keir pyx, therefore, can be viewed as a direct descendent of the dall' Agnola relief. The pyx is displayed in the Brummer gallery with related liturgical and decorative objects.

The purchase of the Keir pyx, along with the 1993 acquisition of an important "Book of Hours" from the workshop of Jean Bourdichon of Tours, continues DUMA's efforts to maintain the Brummer Collection as one of the country's finest university collections of medieval art.