Acquired in 1994, this rare and beautiful example of folkloric silverware is not only a testimony to exceptional know-how; it also stands out because of the richness of the materials used.
The chain of the Guild of Mechelen is composed of a series of links and four ecus stamped with effigies of saints and the coats of arms of noble Mechelen families. What is distinctive about this object is the cartridge with singularly unusual edges representing the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of archers, who is often represented pierced by arrows.
The chain was worn by the Master of the Guild of Archers of Mechelen, known as “the king”. He was awarded his title by shooting a wooden bird (the “parrot” or “parakeet”) that was placed on the sails of a windmill, a church tower or on top of a pole. The king was the first person allowed to defend his title. In principle, each king would add a silver escutcheon to the chain, mentioning his name, the date of his reign and (where he had a title of nobility) his coat of arms.
Originally, the Guild of Archers brought together the bourgeois responsible for defending their community, but later, as the guilds’ military function declined, the guild continued to exist and archery sessions were henceforth organized as recreational activities.
The archery king’s chain is without doubt the most representative item of a guild’s silverware. This one dates from the 17th century, which was the golden age of the corporation. The model for this type of decoration was probably the Chain of the Golden Fleece, the order founded by Philippe le Bon.
The chain of the Guild of Archers was entrusted to the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire and is currently exhibited at the Porte de Hal in Brussels. The Porte de Hal houses the greatest and most diverse collection of national folklore, a field in which corporation silver had an important place.