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National Museum of Scotland acquires Byzantine sardonyx bowl

From the estate of the late Edmund de Rothschild, the Hamilton-Rothschild tazza has been allocated to National Museums Scotland under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which allows donors to leave major works of art to the nation in lieu of inheritance tax. It was one of six outstanding items from the Hamilton Palace collection sold to Alfred de Rothschild shortly before the sale of Scotland’s greatest collection in 1882.

The exceptionally large, Byzantine sardonyx bowl was acquired by Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton (1767-1852) while he was British ambassador in Russia in 1807-8. He bought the bowl in the belief that it was the ‘Bénetier de Charlemagne’ (the holy water stoup of the Emperor Charlemagne, the founder of the Holy Roman Empire), however, this is legend rather than fact. In 1812 the Duke purchased an enamelled gold foot, which came from a massive gold monstrance that King Philip II of Spain had presented to the Monastery of the Escorial in the mid sixteenth century. He subsequently united the two parts creating the tazza.

This unique object is an important addition to the already significant and internationally important European decorative art collections. It will go on temporary display at the National Museum of Scotland immediately before being permanently displayed in one of four major new permanent art and design galleries which are currently being developed.

The tazza was used for the baptisms of both of the Duke’s children, William, the future 11th Duke of Hamilton, and Susan, in 1811 and 1814. Its use reflected the 10th Duke’s deeply held belief in the high status of the House of Hamilton, as premier peers of Scotland, the holders of three dukedoms and the true successors to the Stuart kings of Scotland. This amazing two-part piece was the most highly insured item in Hamilton Palace during the first half of the nineteenth century. The tazza was displayed in the renowned 1862 loan exhibition at what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The Year of Creative Scotland began on 1 January 1 2012 and spotlights and celebrates Scotland’s cultural and creative strengths on a world stage. Through a dynamic and exciting year-long programme of activity celebrating our world-class events, festivals, culture and heritage, the year puts Scotland’s culture and creativity in the international spotlight with a focus on cultural tourism and developing the events industry and creative sector in Scotland.

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