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Risley Park Lanx

The Risley Park Lanx is a large silver dish of Roman origins, first discovered in 1729 in Risley Park, Derbyshire. Subsequently lost, later it apparently reemerged in the 1990s, a supposed heirloom of the Greenhalgh family. Bought by private buyers and donated to the British Museum it was on display for several years, but was removed when the nature of its authenticity became suspect. It was later determined to be a complete fabrication. The fate of the original, genuine, Risley Park Lanx is unknown.[1]


Definition and use of a lanx

"Lanx" is Latin for dish, and was generally a large serving platter of the Romans, in size about 15 by 20 inches.[2] Particularly ornamented ones were used to make offerings or sacrifices.[3] Indeed, the silver Corbridge Lanx,[4] the second discovered in Britain, has depicted on it a lanx itself, set beside various gods and goddesses - Minerva, Diana, Juno, Vesta and Apollo.[5] Positioned atop an altar the lanx is heaped with an offering "of a globular form." Fruit as well as sheep parts and "other small victims" were likely used. However, the exact meaning in this representation has not been determined.[6][7] The inscription on the Risley Park Lanx suggests it was used as a "church plate."[8]

Discovery at Risley Park

In 1729 a large silver dish was ploughed up at Risley Park, Derbyshire. Damaged, if not already in pieces, it soon was.[9] [10] Lady Ashton, the owner of Risley Park was in contact with William Stukeley about it, though it was some years before he acted. Indeed, there is some doubt as to whether he ever actually saw the lanx himself. However he became sufficiently interested after the discovery of the Corbridge lanx to have Gerard Vandergucht make line drawings and an engraving of the remaining pieces.[11] Vandergucht certainly saw them, and may well be the "one that saw" mentioned in the testament inscribed at the bottom of the engravings:

This print of a curious piece of Antiquity in silver... was defined from all the fragments of it that could be got together, by one that saw it, before it was broken in pieces, by the ignorant peoples that found it.[12]

Stukeley then at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries in 1736 read his account, which was later published,[13][14][15] complete "most humbly" with a dedication underneath the drawing of the lanx:

To the most noble prince PEREGRINE duke of Ancafter and kefteven, Marquis and Earl of Lindfey, Baron Willughby of Erefby, hereditary Lord great Chamberlain of England, Lord Lieutenant & Custers Rotuleram of the county of Lincoln &c, &c, &c...[16]

Description and origins

This lanx, what was left of it, was decorated with pastoral and hunting motifs around the edges, and at the centre was a scene from a boar hunt, similar to the pagan ones on the Mildenhall bowls.[17] On one fragment there is also a curious scene of a cherubic figure riding a lion.

Like the Corbridge Lanx the Risley Park one was done in a raised relief style with cast figures. The inscription "round the foot at bottom" was on the back[18] and reads "Exsuperius episcopus ecclesice Bagiensi dedit," (Bishop Exuperius gives this to the church of Bagiensi). This has inspired several different possible theories of the lanx's origin, depending on interpretation of the word "Bagiensi."

Stukeley conjectured that it belonged to an earlier Exuperius, the Bishop of Tholouse 405 AD, who gave it to the Bouge church in Touraine. And that it only ended up in England after it was plundered as spoils of the Battle of Bouge in 1421. However this turns on his reading of "Bagiensi" as "Bogiensi," whereas the Abbe de la Rue's considered the choice of a later Exuperius as a much more likely candidate. This Exuperius was the Bishop of Bayeux, and gifted it to his own church. It was still plundered though, taken by Henry I after he wrested the city from his brother Duke Robert in 1106.[19]

A third theory suggests that the lanx was actually cast in Roman Britain by a local pewterer and "eventually came into the possession of an important Christian," another Exuperius. He gave it to a rural estate called "Bogium," which was possibly a Roman one in Derbyshire.[20]

Whatever its origins,[21] shortly after its discovery the "Risley Park Lanx," as it became known, disappeared again.


In 1981 Johns wrote the then most definitive article on the Risley Park Lanx.[22] It was this, plus Stukeley's publication, which allowed the Greenhalghs to produce a forgery which "fulfill[ed] the expectations of the scholars."[23] Thus the elderly George Greenhalgh came forward in the early 1990s, claiming the family had found the pieces and "welded" them together[24] - and he had the provenance to prove it, a will bequeathing them the lanx.[25]

The British Museum was unconvinced that the Greenhalgh item was the original lanx, but nevertheless considered it probable that it was a genuine period replica. The original had been fragile, therefore it was feasible that "moulds of the pieces were taken and copies cast."[26] No matter either that the pieces did not match the arrangement in the Stukeley engraving (itself a mere guess by Vandergucht, who had less than half of the lanx to work with). They could have reasonably been the remaining original pieces put together differently at a later date.

Furthermore, the Greenhalghs had in fact cleverly invested in some actual Roman silver coins, which they melted down.[27] This complicated the matter of authenticity. And radiographic analysis showed different era solders had been used, suggesting it had been recast in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, perhaps using fragments of the original.[28][29]

In the event, the Risley Park Lanx was sold at Sothebys for £100,000. This was far less than the purported worth of the original – a million pounds[30] – yet still a clear indication that it was considered to be a significant historical "rediscovery."[31] When "two wealthy Americans"[32] gifted the lanx to the British Museum they placed it on display as a replica. It remained there until the rising publicity over the Greenhalghs forced its withdrawal for reassessment.[33]

However, even after the Greenhalghs were exposed as forgers, the Museum remained ambivalent about the worth of their lanx. Andrew Burnett, Deputy Director said, "There have been different views of it and it's something we're looking at again in the light of the Amarna Princess case. We haven't formed a final view on it yet."[34]


  • The Risley Park Lanx (image)
  • The Greenhalgh forgery (image)

See also

  • Known forgeries
  • Amarna Princess
  • The Faun
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Risley_Park_Lanx". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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