Grave tablet

1493 (made)


Height: 30.9 cm, Width: 27.5 cm, Depth: 4.4 cm

M.27-1953 MET

Grave tablet

Bronze grave tablet in the form of a split level shield with in high relief on the bottom 'raised' level a merchant's mark in the form of an arrow, and on the top 'lower' level two hollow triangles, the whole surmounted by a rectangular tablet inscribed in Gothic letters '1493. Starb. konrat.mackel. an. Sant. Sebastian. tag.' The reverse of the tablet has 3 protruding fixing pins. There are several holes and signs of 'old' damage on the tablet.

Memorial tablets were fitted onto the lids of tombs and memorial slabs, or mounted on walls to commemorate the lives of the deceased. They are important sources of information as they are often accompanied by inscriptions and are one of the few examples of medieval art that is consistently dated. This tablet depicts a merchant's mark on a shield, probably the trademark of Konrat Mackel who is commemorated in the shield. Mackel must have been a wealthy merchant: commemorative tablets in Germany tended to be the preserve of the aristocracy. Merchants used 'marks' from around the thirteenth century. The risk of theft or shipwreck was ever-present when transporting goods long distances and it became customary for merchants to divide consignments between several vessels, rather than risk a full cargo in one ship. Marking of goods established ownership and, by implication, guaranteed some degree of responsibility for quality. The tablet asks the reader to remember Konrat Mackel who died on St Sebastian's Day, which falls each year on 20th January. St. Sebastian lived reputedly in 3rd-century Rome at the time of the Emperor Diocletian. He was condemned to death for his Christian beliefs and shot with arrows. None of the arrows entered his vital organs and he survived the ordeal. He confronted the Emperor with a renewed avowal of his faith and was this time clubbed to death. St Sebastian was believed to protect the beholder from plague. He is the patron saint of archers, soldiers and athletes.

The Grave Tablet was formerly in the Dr. Albert Figdor Collection. This collection was put together in Vienna between 1869 and 1927 and was one of the largest and most important private collections of its time. It was sold in Berlin in 1930 and this tablet was bought as Lot 529 for 500 marks by Dr Walter Leo Hildburgh. Hildburgh gave the tablet to the Museum inn 1952 (R.F. 52/4221) Walter Leo Hildburgh was one of the V&A's most dedicated and generous patrons. Born in New York in 1876, he trained as a scientist. Initially he collected ethnography but after 1914 he turned to the decorative arts. Encouraged by successive Keepers of Metalwork, he accumulated huge collections of Spanish and German metalwork. From 1924 when he first offered objects to the Museum on loan, to 1956 when he bequeathed his huge collection, Hildburgh was part of the Museum landscape. He regularly gave the Museum presents at Christmas and on his birthday. His will set up a fund for future purchases, administered in the spirit of his earlier acquisitions. Historical significance: Memorial brasses are important sources of information about clothing, armour, status and social aspirations as they are often accompanied by inscriptions and are one of the few examples of medieval art that is consistently dated. German merchant tablets are relatively rare as such commemorative gestures tended to be confined to the aristocracy.

Given by Dr W. L. Hildburgh

Location: Medieval and Renaissance, room 64, case 12

View this object on the V&A website