Following the Scottish Reformation in the 16th Century, communion plate in Scotland changed significantly. With the denial of transubstantiation, the communion cup purpose was no longer to hold the blood of Christ, but to hold symbolic wine to remember the suffering of Christ.
Moving away from Catholic traditions resulted in a ceasing of trade with the Continent, ultimately encouraging commissions of local Scottish silversmiths. Scotland therefore has a distinct style of communion silver, which is down to those who made the pieces and those who commissioned the silverware.
During the early stages of the reformed kirk, austerity and poverty limited the silver commissions for communion plate. But in 1617 James VI introduced ‘The Act anent the furnesing of Necessaris for Ministration of ye Sacraments’ ensuring that ‘All the paroche kirkis within this kingdome to be provydit of basins and lavouis for the ministration of the Sacrament of Baptism, and of coupes, tablis and tabliclothes for the ministration of Holy Communion’. The Act did not specify the design of the vessels but emphasised that there were to be limited Catholic comparisons. It seems that the earliest types of cups were based on mazers, and relied heavily on the domestic design as to emphasise the move away from what was before.
In this year's edition of our annual Scottish Works of Art auction to be held in August, we are delighted to offer a James VI (I of England) communion cup, by George Crauiford, of Edinburgh with the deacon's mark, James Denniestoun, dating the piece between 1619 – 1621. George Crauiford was admitted as a Freeman of the Incorporation of Goldsmiths of the City Edinburgh in 1606. The Crauifords had an impressive lineage of silversmithing in Edinburgh, George was apprentice to his father, and later his son followed tradition, apprenticing under his father.
While this form of communion cup is well recorded in the Edinburgh and East Lothian area, this example is of particularly high quality, and rightly considered amongst the finest surviving examples. The overall shape and form, while restrained in design, shows a great skill and quality in manufacture, the large knop to the stem, while at first looks slightly cumbersome, gives the piece real presence when in the hand. The only additional flourish of decoration, seen in the running border of foliage to the foot rim, is of exceptional quality and skill for the period and shows the fine degree of craftsmanship employed for the piece overall.
This cup originally formed part of a larger gift, of five cups from Alexander Seton, 1st Earl of Dunfermline, Lord Fyvie and Lord Urquhart, Baron of Fyvie and Pinkie, Pluscarden etc (1555 - 1622) to Inveresk Church in East Lothian. Four cups were without engraved decoration, and one with the addition of Alexander Seton's armorial to the interior of the bowl. The example with the additional engraved armorial is now in the collection of Huntley House Museum, City of Edinburgh Museums. Of the three other cups originally sold by Inveresk Parish Church, Lyon & Turnbull offered the pair in 2011, which achieved a price of £74,660*.
Alexander Seton, was without doubt a hugely influential figure in late 16th and early 17th century law and society. He represented King James VI (I of England) at the highest level in Scotland and held the post of Lord President of the Court of Session from 1598 until 1604 when he was elevated to Lord Chancellor of Scotland until 1622. He had previously held positions in the Privy Council from 1585, Lord of Session (as Lord Urquhart) in 1586. His title changed once more in 1598 to Lord Fyvie and finally to 1st Earl of Dunfermline in 1605.
Seton's influence on Scottish architecture is well recorded and can still be seen. His main residence, Pinkie House, which would become a favourite of Prince Charles (later to become Charles I), was restored to a new glory from its virtual destruction after the battle of Pinkie in 1547 where the long gallery survives with a finely painted ceiling. He was also instrumental in the Seton's of Meldrum rebuilding the ruin of Fyvie castle, which to this day remains a jewel in the crown of Scottish Baronial architecture. Huntley House Museum, Edinburgh, houses part of a ceiling bearing his monogram and heraldry. Another similar ceiling has been recently recorded in a private home. These ceilings, when considered with the Seton portraits and communion cups, show the influence and consideration he bore, not just on law in Scotland, but also the arts.
Seton continued with his staunch religious and lawful ways until his death in 1622. After his spectacular funeral procession which would become immortalized in the poem Tears for the Death of the Earl of Dunfermline Chancellor of Scotland, he was buried in the vault beneath the church of Dalgety which lay in his now vast and wide-reaching lands in Scotland, after a service performed by Archbishop Spottiswood.
Individuals such as Seton, keen to disseminate the new reformed kirk were key to commissioning new plate. The survival of this cup must be appreciated and is noted in the comprehensive work by the Reverend T. Burns, Old Scottish Communion Plate (pgs. 212 and 213), as a rare example of early post-reformation communion plate.
Lyon & Turnbull is the undisputed market leader when it comes to dedicated Scottish silver auctions, with an annual dedicated sale in August held in our Scottish auction house in Edinburgh and via live online auction. Our specialists’ in-depth knowledge of Scottish provincial silver and the current market have proved to be an essential combination to the successful sale of provincial silver from not only the silversmiths of Edinburgh and Glasgow but also Elgin, Ballater, Aberdeen and Perth.
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