Looking at this plaque through today’s lens, it seems that Jesus’ disciples knew the value of face-to-face meetings—no Zoom technology here! Six of them sit on a bench, with Saint Peter at the center. One, thinking, strokes his beard; Saint John, at far right, is eager to jump into the discussion. It looks a bit like a press conference.
But the Acts of the Apostles paints a different picture. Fifty days after Easter, as the disciples met in Jerusalem for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, there was a sudden rush of wind, and “tongues of fire” bizarrely appeared over each of their heads. Jesus’ followers began speaking all at once in different languages, making such a ruckus that people thought they were drunk.
How does the enamel convey that drama? Barely at all, it would seem. But the goldsmith has assumed that we will detect God’s presence in this sedate gathering. Peter’s halo glows red hot. Lines emanating from God’s hand to the disciples carry lightning force, illuminating their haloes on contact with touches of red and yellow. The energy in the room is awesome, its divine source undeniable. Pay close attention to this vitally important message, the goldsmith seems to say.
Plaque with the Pentecost, South Netherlandish, ca. 1150–75. Champlevé and translucent enamel on copper gilt. 65.105. #pentecost #TheMetCloisters #MetAnywhere #enamel #goldsmithing