Liturgical Fan (Flabellum)
Gilt bronze, champlevé enamel, silver, gold filigree
semiprecious stones, pearls, cabochons, gems, and glass
Germany, Valley of the Lower Rhine, possibly Cologne
Late 12th century
Flabella, or liturgical fans, were created for the practical function of keeping flies away from the altar during the celebration of Mass. Originating during the Early Christian period, they were first constructed from parchment or feathers and were attached to long shafts so they could be held by the subdeacon during the blessing of the bread and wine. By the late twelfth century, their function had become largely ceremonial and more lavish materials were used in their construction. All that remains of this fan is its head, richly ornamented with concentric bands of silver gilt and jeweled and enameled friezes decorated with stylized acanthus-leaf scroll and palmette patterns. The hinged, central boss opens like a door to reveal a compartment that once held a relic.
The rich yet balanced combination of materials typifies goldsmith's work produced around Cologne in the late twelfth century.
The Cloisters Collection
Metropolitan Museum of Art