Welcome to the ABA! Bell Talk Forums Bells in Museums & Public Places Renaissance Table Bell – Victoria & Albert Museum

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      Renaissance Figural Bell
      Place of origin: Germany (made)
      Date: ca. 1550 (made)
      Artist/Maker: Unknown (production)
      Materials and Techniques: Gilt bronze
      Dimensions: Height: 12.8 cm, Diameter: 9.4 cm

      Hand bell of gilt bronze, with wide flared lip and steep sides, decorated around the lip with a band of pendants and swags and around the top with a band of running leaf ornament. On its outside the bell is cast with figures representing 4 of the ancient German kings, Charlemagne, Wygewon, Tuiscon and Wandalus from plaquettes by Peter Flötner (born Thurgau, Switzerland, 1485–96, died Nuremberg, 23 Nov 1546). The figures are separated by eagles in a variety of poses and crescent moons, suns and stars. The handle is in the form of a seated lion with raised front legs, with a protruding screw thread at its base which sunk into the bell to fasten the clapper.

      The nut fixing the clapper is a replacement and a base plate for the lion is missing. Inside the gilding has worn where the clapper has struck the bell. The clapper itself has a fracture halfway up probably caused by the bell being placed flat on a hard surface as the clapper protrudes from the base.

      There are also 2 curved lines of drilled holes running from Tuiscon’s left hand to Wandalus’ right hand. There is no explanation for these holes in the Museum register.

      Object history note – This bell was bought by the Museum in 1858 for £2. Its provenance before 1858 is unknown.

      In the Museum’s register of 1858 the bell is described as:
      “BELL, Hand-bell, Gilt bronze, the handle formed by a lion rampant. Venetian. 16th centy. 5 in. by 3½ in. Bought 2l. 4483.-’58”

      Historical significance: This bell, although slightly damaged, is of exceptional quality. It is cast with figures based on the plaquettes of one of the most significant woodcut artists of the 16th century, Peter Flötner (born Thurgau, Switzerland, 1485-96, died Nuremberg, 23 Nov 1546). Flötner produced several series of plaquettes including The Virtues, The Seven Deadly Sins, Eminent Women of Classical Antiquity and The Seven Gods of the Planets. The figures on this bell represent 4 from his series The Twelve Ancient German Kings and depict Charlemagne, Wygewon, Tuiscon and Wandalus. Examples of this series in lead are in the Museum Mayer Van Den Bergh, Antwerp and in silver (13 kings) in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. The V&A owns an example of the Charlemagne plaquette (110-1867). These plaquettes closely resemble the woodcuts of 12 kings by Flötner in Ursprung und Herkummen der zwölff ersten alten Könige und Fursten Deutscher Nation, published by Hans Guldemundt of Nuremberg in 1543.

      Flötner was a sculptor, medallist, cabinetmaker, woodcutter and designer. He worked initially in Augsburg from around 1512 to 1516 before moving to Nuremberg where he became a citizen in 1522. Changes in Flötner’s style after around 1530 suggest he may have travelled to Italy. His emblem was a mallet and skewchisel.

      Flötner’s workshop catered for bell-founders, goldsmiths, pewterers and medallists supplying them with plaques made of lead, tin, bronze and solnhofen limestone. They were used like pattern books. The plaques were arranged in lines and a clay or plaster mould was made from them. In these moulds wax models were cast which were then applied to the outside of the wax models of bells, mortars and tankards before they were cast in metal.

      Historical context note – Bells played an important role in everyday life during the 16th century, regulating the working day, calling worshippers to church and announcing special occasions such as weddings and funerals.

      Small bells were either rung by hand or suspended from beams and struck with a hammer. Handbells were both religious and secular in function. They were used in religious rituals and were commonly decorated with figures of saints. Small bells were also used as doorbells, and to call servants and institutions into action. The sounding of a bell had a number of meanings from warning to protection from danger, calling order, regulating routine and announcing civic and religious occasions.

      Bronze bells were produced in Europe as early as the 5th or 6th centuries AD by Benedictine monks in Italy. Bells, mortars and cannon were produced in the same workshops. Church bells were often extremely large and heavy and difficult to move so founders were itinerant, setting up their workshops close to the site commissioning bells. Designs for bells, mortars and cannon were therefore dispersed quickly around Europe.

      Click on the link below for pictures and description:

      The V&A has a relatively large collection of renaissance bronze bells, as documented in the following:

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