82. An Alchemist’s Porphyry Mercury Bowl

English, probably 14th century
Size: 27.5 × 22 cm; box 31 × 25.5 cm
Swedish porphyry, oak, bitumen

To find something like this you would have had to visit Christopher Gibbs, whose mysterious lair was at the time in Elystan Place, where he sat like a magus with marvellous things. Doctor Dee’s bracelet and Count Cagliostro’s shoe buckles once resided there, I remember. And although Christopher’s scope embraced much more than the curious and the esoteric, this interest of his tinged his taste in every area, and contributed to the influence he exerted on so many in the art world, an influence matched by very few. He was king of the house sales, the romance of which he described in an article that I have never forgotten but can no longer find. One of the most interesting features of this bowl – a close second to Doctor Dee’s obsidian scrying mirror in the British Museum – is its Gibbs provenance.

Provenance: Christopher Gibbs, circa 1970