The Duke of Northumberland presented the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne with an electrotype copy of the Corbridge Lanx (above) during the mid 20th century. The original Lanx is now in the British Museum and is made of 97.5% pure silver and is believed to date to the later 4th century AD. This beautifully engraved tray was designed as a Roman serving platter for banquets or rituals. The significantly detailed mythological scene depicts Apollo standing (on the right) before a shrine holding his bow with his lyre at his feet. Apollo was a Greek god, son of Zeus, who gradually became adopted by the Romans during a plague in 433 BC when the Temple of Apollo Medicus was built near Pomerium (the religious boundary of Rome). The first Roman Emperor Augustus took Apollo as his personal guardian and built a temple in Rome on the Palatine dedicated to him following his victory at the battle of Actium in 31 BC (Grimal, 1991). Standing with her hand raised in conversation is the warrior goddess Athena. Presiding over the arts and literature, Athena was the daughter of Zeus and Metis and patroness of many towns. Her attributes were the spear, helmet and the aegis (animal skin/shield). In the scene above, Athena is talking to Artemis who was the twin sister of Apollo. The seated lady is believed to be Leto, who was the mother of Apollo and Artemis by Zeus, and the other woman may be her sister Ortygia. The scene is thought to be set on the island of Delos, a Greek island near Mykonos.
An excerpt of a court leet ruling in May 1735 on the ownership of the lanx states: “Isabel Cutter, daughter of Thomas Cutter of Corbridge, blacksmith, aged nine years… did on or about the tenth day of February last past find an ancient silver piece of plate in a great measure covered with the earth, one end sticking out of the ground, at a certain place within this manor near the north bank of the river Tyne by the water edge.”
To make the original Lanx, the design was first drawn out on the front of a cast silver sheet. The background was hammered down with small punches to leave the figures in relief – known as chasing. Extra detail was then scratched or engraved into the surface with a pointed tool.