South Netherlandish
Medieval (Gothic)
about 1430

Object Place: Europe, Southern Netherlands


Overall: 17.6 x 4.9 x 2.6 cm (6 15/16 x 1 15/16 x 1 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Painted enamel and gilding on silver

On View

Alyce Morrissey Gallery (Kunstkammer) (Gallery 143)





The silver spoon is composed of several pieces: a painted enamel bowl with an applied gilded silver edge and central strip on the back; a cast lion head joining the stem and the bowl; a silver stem wound with a gilded silver band to create a spiral field for enamel; and a gilded silver floral finial cast in two pieces. The figures in grisaille and the triangular treetops and rain in gold are painted over a lapis-blue enamel ground. The stem has traces of green and blue enamel. The fig-shaped bowl appearing to emanate from the mouth of the lion shows, on the inside, a fox standing in a pulpit and wrapped in a monk’s habit with three dead geese, whose heads emanate from the cowl. The fox preaches from a charter with a dangling seal (on which only the word “pax” is legible) to a flock of geese who stand on a hillside. Another fox, seated below the pulpit, seizes one of the congregants. Above a fleeing goose is a scroll with an undecipherable inscription. At the top of the scene, on both the front and the back sides of the bowl, golden rain and rays emanate from a small cloud. The back side shows a dense forest of trees on hilly ground.

On the bowl of this spoon, a fox dressed as a monk and carrying three dead geese in his cowl holds a document bearing the word “pax” (peace). He is preaching to a flock of geese, while another fox seizes one of the congregation. The perceived hypocrisy of the clergy was frequently mocked in the late Middle Ages, and the inspiration for the decoration of this spoon may have been a well-known proverb, “When the fox preaches beware your geese.” Or the scene may be drawn from a Flemish version of the immensely popular Roman de Renart, a collection of stories (featuring Renart the fox) in which animals live in a society modeled on that of medieval France. The spoon is one of a group of luxury objects that are believed to have been made for Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, a great patron of the arts who amassed large collections of tapestries, paintings, metalwork, illustrated books, and jewels.


About 1430, possibly part of a table service made for Philip the Good (b. 1396 - d. 1467), 3rd Valois Duke of Burgundy (r. 1419-1467), Dijon and Bruges (original commission?) [see note 1]. Princes of Anhalt, Dessau, Germany. 1927, with A.S. Drey, Munich [see note 2]. By 1931, Baron Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild (b. 1843 - d. 1940), Frankfurt [see note 3]; 1938, forcibly sold by Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild to the city of Frankfurt; by 1949, restituted to the Goldschmidt-Rothschild heirs, but prevented from export [see note 4]; between 1949 and 1951, exported to the Goldschmidt-Rothschild heirs in the United States; probably sold by the Goldschmidt-Rothschild family to Rosenberg and Stiebel, New York [see note 5]; 1951, sold by Rosenberg and Stiebel to the MFA for $2250. (Accession Date: November 8, 1951)

[1] Philip the Good adopted the colors (black, gray, and white) of this spoon and other, similar enamels after the death of his father, John the Fearless, in 1419. The objects may have belonged to the same table set. For further information, see Hanns Swarzenski and Nancy Netzer, "Catalogue of Medieval Objects: Enamels and Glass" (Boston: MFA, 1986), pp.122-124, cat. no. 43.

[2] Phillipe Verdier, "A Medallion of the 'Ara Coeli' and the Netherlandish Enamels of the Fifteenth Centuries," Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 19-20 (1956-1957), p. 30, n. 69.

[3] Heinrich Kohlhaussen, "Niederländisch Schmelzwerk," Jahrbuch der Preussischen Kunstsammlungen 52 (1931), p. 154, n. 3, recorded it as already in the Goldschmidt-Rothschild collection.

[4] In November 1938 Nazi authorities forced Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild to sell his art collection to the city of Frankfurt. Upon his death in 1940, the objects were transferred to and accessioned by various city museums. After the war, his heirs succeeded in legally voiding the 1938 sale and recuperating the collection, which was sent to the United States (see "Important French Furniture & Objets d'Art," Goldschmidt-Rothschild estate sale, part one, Parke-Bernet, New York, March 10-11, 1950, prefatory note). This spoon, however, was identified as a German National Treasure and was not immediately granted export permission. In letters of April 21, 1949 and May 2, 1949 from the Hessian Ministry of Culture, Wiesbaden, this spoon is listed as among the items not approved for export. National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD, RG 260, Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point Administrative Records, General Records: Hesse Minister-President Treuhandschaft (microfilm publication M1947, roll 2) and Restitution Claim Records: Germany, Goldschmidt-Rothschild (microfilm publication M1947, roll 45).

[5] Rosenberg and Stiebel sold a number of works of art for members of the Rothschild family at this time.

Credit Line

Helen and Alice Colburn Fund