Three Worthies in the Fiery Furnace

Meuse Region (Maastricht ?)
Medieval
about 1150–75
Maker Unidentified


Dimensions

Overall: 20.8 x 22.7 cm (8 3/16 x 8 15/16 in.)

Accession Number

51.7

Medium or Technique

Champlevé enamel and gilding on copper

On View

I. W. Colburn Chapel Gallery (Gallery 254A)

Collections

Europe

Classifications

Enamels

Slightly convex plaque shaped like a scale with beaded border on the round edge and six pinholes. Hammered, tooled, champlevé, enameled, and gilded. Enamel colors are lapis blue (two shades), azure blue, light blue, white, turquoise, yellow, green, and red in single and mixed fields of up to three colors. A bending angel (inscribed ANGEL[US] with spread wings and arms strikes the flames from the furnace with the three Worthies, Ananias, Azarias, and Misael. They carry a scroll inscribed with their song: BENEDICT[US] ES D[OMI]NE D[EU]S PATRU[M] NOSTROR[UM] ET GLORIOS[US] I]N] S[AE]C[U]LA. With azure-blue halos edged in turquoise, the Worthies, dressed in lapis-blue tunics, stand against a gold ground under a lapis blue scalloped arch and red and turquoise flames. With a cross in his nimbus, Azarias, frontal and in the center, wears a turquoise ephod studded with jewels. The angel, with a turquoise halo edged in light blue and white, has a gold crown with flying ribbons. His tunic is modeled in yellow, green, turquoise, and lapis blue, and his mantle, with a semirosette on the thigh, has folds shaded from a lapis blue to white. Hair is lapis blue with curls outlined in reserve; flesh is white, and faces are all drawn according to the same formula. The almond-shaped eyes have lapis-blue dots; mouths are red, bordered by two parallel lines in reserve. Bound on the outside by a lapis-blue border with stylized leaves outlined in reserve and on the inside by a narrow white band, the scene is described by an inscription: NEC PUEROS LEDIT VESANI REGIS ET IGNIS. NEC MATRIS NATUS DISOLUIT CLAUSTRA PUDORIS.


Composition, color, and technical precision place this large plaque among the finest examples of medieval enamelwork to survive. It tells the Old Testament story of the Three Worthies who refused to worship a golden image and were cast into a furnace where they “walked about in the midst of the flames, singing hymns to God and blessing the Lord. Then Azariah stood and offered this prayer: ‘Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of our fathers, and worthy of praise; and thy name is glorified for ever.’” Hearing this, an angel “drove the fiery flame out of the furnace … so that the fire did not touch them at all or hurt or trouble them.” In the Middle Ages, many Old Testament stories were viewed as precursors of New Testament ones; the Three Worthies prefigured the purity of the Virgin, as the encircling inscription here makes clear: “Neither the fury of the King nor the fire can harm the youths, nor can the birth of the Mother destroy the seal of her Virginity.”

Provenance

By 1853, Princess Isabella Dzialynska (née Czartoryski) (b. 1832 - d. 1899), Goluchow Castle, Poznan, Poland; until World War II, by descent within Czartoryski family [see note 1]. By 1950, J. Pollack (dealer), Paris; sold by Pollack to Wildenstein and Co., New York; 1951, sold by Wildenstein to the MFA [see note 2]. (Accession Date: January 11, 1951)

NOTES:
[1] During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Czartoryski family were celebrated collectors of art in Poland. They housed their collections in the Czartoryski Museum, Kraków, and the Goluchow Castle, Poznan. With the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the family hid much of their collection behind a fake wall at Sieniawa Palace (outside Kraków), in the basement of the museum, and in a relative's home in Pewkinie. Nazis eventually discovered and confiscated many of these works of art, which were moved about several times during the war. While Allied forces restituted much of the collection after the war, many objects had been traded, lost, and looted and were not returned to the Czartoryski family.

[2] In 1951, Prince Wladyslaw Czartoryski of London filed a lawsuit notifying both Wildenstein and the MFA that this object and another enamel (MFA no. 50.858) had been unlawfully seized by the Nazis from his family's collection during World War II. A settlement was ultimately reached among all parties, giving the MFA full ownership of both enamels. Prince Czartoryski signed an agreement on July 11, 1955 assigning legal ownership of the objects to Wildenstein and the MFA (in MFA curatorial file). It was further arranged between Wildenstein and the MFA that the museum was the full owner of the enamels; this is documented in a letter from Georges Wildenstein to Georg Swarzenski of the MFA (June 30, 1955; in MFA curatorial file).

Credit Line

William Francis Warden Fund