Medieval Art and the Cloisters: The Church Bell of Lisignano (Ližnjan)
Northern Italian (Venice). Bronze, 22-7/8 in. (58 cm.); diam. 14-1/2 in. (42 cm.); 130 lbs. (59 kg.). Gift of Nathaniel Spear, Jr. 1980.542 to the Metropolitan Museum of New York City.
The bell has a crown consisting of two confronted pairs of angular loops, through which wooden crossbars were passed for hanging, and two canons or ears, through which iron bands passed to secure the bell. The whole is surmounted by a circular loop. The two side ears show a great deal of wear. One of them, in fact, is so worn that it would have broken off completely if the bell had continued to be used. It must have been this particular ear that held the most weight when the bell was swung for ringing. The original clapper, now missing, would have been attached to a ring on the inside. The bell has an undecorated band between two raised lines at the neck and a similar one at the shoulder that bears the inscription: M[agister] • MARCVS • FILIVS • פ [quondam] • M[agistri] • VENDRAMI • ME • FECIT • + • M-C-C-C-C-XI • ("Master Marcus, son of the late Master Vendramus, made me in 1411"). Above the inscription appears the master's personal mark, consisting of three lines forming a sort of tripod surmounted by a cross. Master Marcus is documented as a native of Venice, the son of Master Vendramus; this is how the inscription appears in his earlier, documented bells, the first of which is from 1396. It seems from the inscription of the present example that Master Vendramus was already dead in 1411.
Apart from the natural and most convincing wear of the crown, the bell is in excellent condition. It shows little signs of corrosion, and the patina has a very pleasant color. In general the bell has an appealing and elegant shape, and the gothic lettering of the inscription is accurate and harmoniously designed.
The composition of the metal is probably in keeping with the standard recipe for bell making—a higher percentage of tin than regular bronze and some additional lead. The metal composition as well as the thickness of the wall were important factors determining the tone of the bell.
This is a rare example of a medieval bell that has known provenance and is signed and dated. It was originally in the parish church of Lisignano, a small town near Pola in the south of the peninsula of Istria. Istria, which is now part of Yugoslavia [this article ws written in 1980-1, it is now part of Croatia], belonged to Austria at the time the bell was put to use. At some point in history, probably during the First World War, this bell, together with all the others in the region, was destined to be melted for the manufacture of war material, a common fate of bells throughout the world and throughout history. It was by sheer luck that the particular antiquity of this bell was discovered in time, and the Samassa Bell Foundry in Leibach, Austria, kept it as a museum piece and eventually sold it.
Until now, the Medieval department, which is otherwise rather rich in bronze and brass objects of the twelfth to the sixteenth century, has had no example of bells of any period within the scope of its collection, and this is one more reason for making this gift a most welcome acquisition.