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A Century of Giving

Cover of a Secular cup (fragment)

Romanesque, early 13th Century

gold, embossed and chased, set with gemstones in oval and rectangular settings

The Fitzwilliam Museum: M/P.1-1921

This rare piece of gold, embossed and set with jewels, was probably the lid of a secular cup. Decorated with a seated couple holding a bunch of flowers, a lute-player and a harpist - it may have been associated with a marriage, or other festive occasion.

Cockerell bought the fragment for £100 in 1921 from Baron Anatole von Hügel, founding curator of the Cambridge Museum of General and Local Archaeology (now the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology), on the Downing Site.

The history of this precious piece of gold - possibly of English, German or Franco-Flemish provenance - is still largely a mystery. Von Hügel believed it had probably been acquired by his grandfather at Trier in 1795, and it had remained in his family ever since. When it first came to the Museum, it was much crumpled and damaged, with signs of having been clipped to make coins.

There are many interesting parallels between Baron Von Hügel and Sydney Cockerell, who were also good friends. Von Hügel, described as a 'charming beggar', was a man of great energy and determination. He raised the capital for building the new Archaeology Museum (begun 1910) to which he donated his own collection of ethnographic artefacts. Von Hügel's successor as curator was Louis Clarke, later Cockerell's own successor as Director at the Fitzwilliam.

According to a surviving letter, Von Hügel spent half the proceeds from the sale of this medieval fragment to Cockerell, on a new showcase for his own museum!

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