The Eleanor Vase

Ellen's picture

Wednesday, 05/25/2011, Paris

I arrived at the Louvre today and went straight to the information desk to ask where the Eleanor Vase was. I wasn't going to fool around trying to find it and wind up looking at some other ancient relic or medieval craftsmanship and waste my precious time. I had a mission and I wanted to get in and out with minimal people interaction. I needed all my energy for the Eleanor of Aquitaine experience.

I asked the gentleman at the desk where Eleanor of Aquitaine's vase was. "What?" he said looking completely bewildered, and then mumbled something to his compatriot. I pronounced it as the English do. Was that not also how the French pronounce it? I hadn't thought to find out.

I then rattled off a few more names, Henry the Second, her husband. Richard the Lionheart and King John, her sons. "Ah!" he said. "Ah! Alienor d'Aquitaine!" He pronounced it "ock-i-tane." OK. Let me write that down.

He pointed me to the Objets d'Art hall of the Richelieu arm of the museum. He even circled the exact case on the diagram that held the vase. Perfect. "Merci," I said and headed upstairs to the first floor (in Europe, you may know, the street level is usually floor 0; the next floor up is the main floor).

I walked in.

I am now here, seeing the Eleanor Vase -- beautiful. (See She is just sitting there with three other pieces, sharing a case with them as if they were equivalent pieces of antiquity! A porcelain-like vase with platinum "wings." Like that will impress me! And an ornate silver tea pot like a press pot. How pedestrian!

A piece like a small charm hangs off at the top of the neck of the Eleanor vase. The gold filigree and metal work seem at odds with the simple honeycomb pattern of the crystal vase itself, which was the original vase given to Eleanor's grandfather as a gift from a Berber ruler when he helped him defend Saragossa, Spain from a new Berber invasion. The naked crystal vase was also all that Eleanor gave Louis VII on their wedding day. The metalwork was added by Abott Sugar when he received the vase as a gift from Louis and added it to his collection at St. Denis.

The back side of crystal has been smashed and sheared off, creating a glacial face. A small fissure appears at the top of the glass, but it does not go completely through the material. The stones and jewels on the outside are lovely -- amethyst, coral -- all about 1/4 inch by 1/2 inch. Then a pair of tiny pearls set in filigree -- in the gold metal stand one on top of the other. The writing at the base is square and Roman-looking. Some letters larger than the others. And a flower pattern similar to the Fleur-de-lis.

One of the jewels is missing on the back side -- the same side of the crystal vase that is sheared off and glacial-looking -- the rest appear to be in place. This is where the vase must have hit the floor in the 18th century, damaging it for the first time. Around the space where the jewel had been is a pattern like a fine gold rope woven around the shape of the missing jewel. It seems someone line up the damage to the vase to appear at the back, away from the viewer's first sight of the vase.

Upon closer inspection, though, I find a mark like a backwards Zorro “Z” slash on the front. It doesn't appear to be a fissure in the crystal. Otherwise, it is a tremendous mending job! They should have taken better care of this precious artifact from the life of Eleanor. It is the only thing we have left of hers.

In the neck of the metal holder there is one ring of stones. Above this is a space filled with ovals -- four of them, each with four Fleur-de-lis painted in gold over a blue stone in the center of the oval -- possibly lapis lazuli -- above this series of ovals is a circlet of small semi-precious stones & pearls.

Gorgeous. The vase shape itself is almost completely symmetrical. Incredible. The top of the vase – what I can see from under the metal collar, comes down at almost vertical, then rolls out into a curved arc that reaches a rounded apex, then curves back in smoothly into the base.

The hammered inside of the metal at the lip of the neck shows the tiny indentations left by the hammer that was used to mold it. It reflects back the light in the case in blues and burnt orange and bronze and black. What did my main character Aihne see when she looked at this same vase as I am now?

There must be an odd mark at the base of the original crystal, almost invisible and obscured by the metal base. A thread that was not a crack. A groove that only Aihne's expert eyes could make out. No one else had noticed. And the kicker was that there was a matching groove on the other side! What did it mean? Aihne's purpose on traveling to the 12th century is to find out!
Ever learning, Everlasting