Thursday, February 19, 2015

To Serve and Project: The Diana Coral Spoon, 1530-40

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This outstanding spoon features a silver-gilt bowl and a handle which has been formed from a branch of red coral. The bowl of the spoon bears an unidentified shield of arms, a coronet (probably of a Duke), initials, and adornment with elaborate scrolling patterns. The gilt bottom of the handle is decorated with classical heads in low relief. These busts represent the goddess Diana, identified by a crescent moon, her symbol, above.

Most likely, this was once part of a set, but after nearly five hundred years, it’s impossible to tell whether it paired with a knife or fork, or whether it was part of an impressive cutlery set. According to the V&A, “a similar coral-handled spoon, together with a matching knife and fork, was purchased around 1579 by the Elector Augustus of Saxony, who had one of the largest-known collections of coral-handled cutlery.”

Coral was prized for its beauty, but it was also believed to possess protective properties, such as the power to ward off evil magic. In the Sixteenth Century, for coral to be used in cutlery shows not only the desire for something beautiful, but perhaps a wish to be protected from malevolent forces which might have poisoned the food.

Though most coral pieces were made in Italy, this spoon appears to have been made in Germany.

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