Conference paper

Dandridge, Pete:

The Hildesheim Baptismal Font: A Window into Medieval Workshop Practices in the Years around 1200

At the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century, Hildesheim witnessed an upsurge in the production of ecclesiastical metalwork. The Cathedral and Dom-Museum retain a rich and diverse selection of artworks from this era including both monumental and more diminutive, church furnishings cast from copper alloys. The Hildesheim Baptismal Font, created for the Cathedral in 1225-26, provides a suitably expansive window through which to explore the technical and artistic capacities of the responsible workshops. Utilizing visual, radiographic, and analytic evidence from the Font’s recent examination, it is possible to articulate the techniques used in the fabrication of the elements constituting its four discrete strata – feet, basin, lid, and finial. Analogous methodologies can also be found on other objects from Hildesheim - the Eagle Lectern and Lion Aquamanile in the Dom-Museum, as well as aquamanilia in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
An invaluable resource for evaluating the physical evidence from these collected objects is the twelfth century treatises, On divers arts, written under the pseudonym of Theophilus with the author identified as the Benedictine monk Roger of Helmarshausen or, more recently, as the encyclopedist Northungus from Hildesheim. Integrating his descriptions of metalworking practices with the technical analyses of the materials and techniques utilized in fabricating contemporaneous, cast objects from Hildesheim furthers our ability to evaluate the veracity of the author’s descriptions and to expand our understanding of workshop practices in that city in the years around 1200.
The comparisons suggest it is difficult to segregate those artists creating monumental works from those casting corpora, aquamanilia, prickets, and censors. Quite possibly, the determinate factor in a workshop’s production was the skill and ambition of the master.