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Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, January 26, 1924


Dearest Mildred,

You must have concluded, when [you] got my yesterday’s letter, that I had gone clean off my burner—when I had yours last night I thought seriously of sending you a telegram to reassure you.

Now as to the paten. It is unquestionably right, and has been given all the diplomas Paris can discern, having been dealt with (together with my chalice) in a communication to the InstitutThe French Institute (Institut de France), a French learned society that comprises five académies, one of which is the Académie des beaux-arts (Academy of Fine Arts), created in 1816. by Diehl,Charles Diehl published the paten (BZ.1924.5) in “L’école artistique d’Antioche et les trésors d’argenterie syrienne,” Syria 2 (1921): 81–95, esp. 81, pl. 14. and described and reproduced in a very important article on Antiochene silver by Bréhier (a very great authority on the earlier centuries of art) in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts about four years ago.Louis Bréhier, “Les trésors d’argenterie syrienne et l’école artistique d’Antioche,” Gazette des beaux arts 62 (March–April 1920): 176. Elisina is at this very moment scouring the town to find a copy of the number of the Gazette, to send you. All this is not superfluous, but the object is utterly unfakable, and to me is perhaps the most moving thing—possibly excepting my chaliceSee also letter of March 11, 1913: “I spent most of last night over the chalice. [Matthew Prichard] says it is a crown of glory, the finest thing out of S. Mark’s etc. and tears came to his eyes when the inscription burst upon him."—I’ve ever seen for sale.

As to why it hasn’t been bought, I can only say that it isn’t the sort of thing that’s fashionable, and the price asked hitherto has been pretty bigKalebdjian swore he wouldn’t take one penny less than £3000 when both the franc and sterling were at par. But the real reason is probably that it’s too good for this world to understand; people will buy pictures for ten times the price, and I know no picture in the world that would mean as much as that paten. “It’s only God may be had for the asking”.James Russell Lowell, The Vision of Sir Launfal (Cambridge: George Nichols, 1848), prelude to part 1, stanza 4: “‘Tis only God may be had for the asking.” I needn’t tell you that 175 000 f.Approximately $7,600 in 1924 at the exchange rate of January 25, 1924. See B. Blancheton, “French Exchange Rate Management in the Mid-1920's: Lessons Drawn from New Evidence,” 10, fig. 1. $7,600 is the approximate equivalent of $100,735 in 2012 dollars. seems to me a marvellous opportunity, and if I could I’d jump at it.

If you do get it, live with it for a good long time anyway. It will teach you a great deal about the age when Santa SophiaHagia Sophia (the Church of Holy Wisdom), the patriarchal basilica built between 532 and 537 in Istanbul (Constantinople), Turkey, during the reign of the emperor Justinian (ca. 480–565, reigned 527–565). and the great churches of Ravenna were built, when the most perfect Byzantine enamels were made and the throne of MaximianIvory throne of Maximian, Bishop of Ravenna (546–554). Constructed of wood set with carved ivory panels representing Old Testament stories, the life of Christ, and various Biblical persons, the throne was probably made in Constantinople in the mid-sixth century. was carved. Eventually, give it to the Cabinet des Médailles, the only place in the world I know of that’s fit to receive it. I hope some day to give my chalice to the Cabinet des Médailles, but have said no word about it to anyone and will ask you to say none, because having bought Antigny and being engaged in working on it, and the cost of living being for me, with a boy soon going to a public school, somewhat formidable, and having experienced to some extent the insecurity of investments however reputable, I don’t think I have the right at present to part with the chalice. I don’t mean ever to sell it unless I’m really forced to, and I do mean, if I and we thrive to let it go to the Cabinet des Médailles—the one museum that has an atmosphere in which works of art live, grow sleek and glossy and are patently as happy as they would be in any well-appointed private house.

Have no hesitation about the S. Kensington. They can only raise such sums from the National Art Coll. Fund, which will only march for “arty” works of art, and has no more power of apprehending the paten than a horse.

You may imagine how excited I am. The thought of your having it intoxicates me, and it would be a happiness for life to think that the two pieces would one day be joined together and live happily ever after at the C. des M. (By the way, dear old BabelonErnest Charles François Babelon (1854–1924), director of the Cabinet des Médailles in Paris and the author of many works on Greek coins. He died on January 3, 1924. died the other day.)

I’ve had a great shock in the sudden death of Haguenin, President de la Delégation du Comité des Garanties at Berlin,François Émile Haguenin (1872–1924), a professor of German who had taught at University of Berlin before the First World War. After returning to France in 1915, he became an intelligence officer as the director of the Press Office at the Embassy of France in Bern. In February 1919, he became head of the French trade mission in Berlin. of whom I’ve often spoken to you. I loved him dearly, and few people will ever know what he did for peace, again and again and most of all this last year; the strain of it killed him.

Vignier has up his sleeve some prodigious objects from Siberia, among others a marvellous crustacean about 15 in. long, bronze covered with silver plates, all engraved, and studded with 3 turquoises and one big blue blob of glass. A full set of claws, articulated tail, all complete. It’s a fibula! What can the man have been who wore it?The Blisses acquired a number of Scythian, Persian, and Islamic antiquities from Vignier in 1923, but they did not acquire the fibula mentioned by Royall Tyler. A letter dated February 7, 1924, from Vignier to Robert Woods Bliss concerning this fibula and a photograph remain in the Byzantine Collection, Vignier correspondence file, Dumbarton Oaks Archives.

By the way, old SchlumbergerGustave Schlumberger (1844–1929), a French historian and numismatist specializing in the era of the crusades and the Byzantine Empire. knows the paten and values it according to his lights—so do all the Byzantinists, I think, and I’ve never heard the slightest note of doubt. But such a thing as doubt is unthinkable in connection with it.

Much love from Elisina and me to you both.

R. T.

Associated Places: Paris (France)
Associated Things: Kalebdjian Frères
Associated Artworks: BZ.1924.5; BZ.1955.18