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Diptych

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (north, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1450-1480 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Partially gilded silver and basse taille enamel

  • Museum number:

    213-1874

  • Gallery location:

    Jewellery, Rooms 91, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, case 52, shelf A, box 9

This densely ornamented German diptych (with two hinged plaques) could be worn as a pendant. It shows a typical range of scenes from the life of Christ, with a special focus on his mother, the Virgin Mary. The cult of the Virgin grew in importance from the 13th century and particularly attracted women.

On the obverse it shows the Virgin and Child and Crucifixion; on the reverse are the Nativity and the Annunciation. It is inscribed in Latin: ‘Hail, Queen of Mercy / My Lord and my God / Hail blessed Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary / I commend me to thee, pious virgin and mother’.

Jewels for private devotion were common, but only the wealthy would have owned pieces made with such expensive materials and complex techniques. This one is decorated with basse taille enamel. This technique, in which translucent enamel is fused over an engraved surface, was probably invented in Italy around 1280 and was quickly adopted elsewhere.

Physical description

Interior: The left panel shows the Virgin of the Apocalypse, with long hair and wearing a low-necked robe and gilt crown, seated on a gilt crescent moon. The Child sits on her knee. By her head are two angels, the left angel holding a flower or fruit, the right an apple or pear. Beneath the angels are white clouds, in painted enamel.
The right panel shows the Crucifixion. Christ is raised on the Cross, whose titulus is inscribed INRI in Gothic letters. To the sides are a small sun and a small gilt crescent moon. Below the arms of the cross two cherubs catch the blood from christ's wounds in three gilt chalices; at the foot of the cross a third cherub holds up a fourth gilt chalice to catch the blood from the wounds on his feet. On the left of the cross is the mourning Virgin; on the right the Apostle John, holding a gilt book.
Exterior: Both panels are decorated with scenes cast and chased on matted ground within a sunken octagonal panel. The left panel shows the Annunciation; the Virgin is on the left, a lily in a gilt pot stands between her and the kneeling angel, whose scroll is inscribed in Gothic letters ave: maria. Above, God floats between two angels and sends down the dove of the Holy Ghost on gilt rays.
The right panel shows the Virgin adoring the Child; the Virgin kneels on the left; St. Joseph stands on the right holding a flaming candle and leaning on a crook. Above, the motif of God, angels and the Holy Dove is repeated. Round the edge of both panels run Gothic inscriptions.

Place of Origin

Germany (north, made)

Date

ca. 1450-1480 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Partially gilded silver and basse taille enamel

Marks and inscriptions

salue . regina / misercordie
Hail, Queen of Mercy
Above and below the hasps

dominus . meus / et deus meus
My Lord and my God
Above and below the hinge

ave be[nedicte] . I[es]bu xpe [Christe] natus . ex. maria . v[ir]gine
Hail blessed Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary
Upper end of panel

me . tibi . virgo . pia . / genet[r]ix . co[m]me[n]do . maria.
I commend me to thee, pious virgin and mother
Lower end of panel

Dimensions

Height: 6.5 cm, Width: 5 cm open, Width: 3.3 cm closed, Depth: 1.5 cm

Descriptive line

Silver pendent diptych, parcel-gilt and enamel, depicting biblical scenes on all four panels. Northern Germany, about 1450-80.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Medieval European Jewellery by Ronald Lightbown, V&A Publications, 1992, no.67

Materials

Silver; Enamel

Techniques

Parcel-gilt; Enamelled

Subjects depicted

Moon; Sun; Christianity; Angels; Faith; Dove

Categories

Jewellery; Metalwork; Religion; Christianity

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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