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Reliquary pendant

  • Place of origin:

    France (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1370-1395 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silver, silver-gilt, enamel, rock crystal.

  • Museum number:

    M.350-1912

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10, case 5

The bones and possessions associated with Christ and the saints are known as relics. In the Middle Ages and later they were believed to have miraculous powers and were greatly venerated.

The relics were kept in special containers, called reliquaries, whose costly materials and beautiful workmanship reflected the importance of their contents. The relics themselves are occasionally visible, set beneath crystal windows and wrapped in a parchment tag with the name of the saint. Cathedrals and major churches accumulated reliquaries and displayed them on or near the high altar on major holy days.

This reliquary would have hung in a private chapel. It shows St Catherine holding her emblem, a wheel, the symbol of the torture she suffered before martyrdom. Her fashionably coiffed hair befits her rank as princess. A cloth fragment, the relic, is placed under crystal on the back.

Physical description

Reliquary Pendant, silver, silver gilt, translucent enamel. The central panel depicts St Catherine of Alexandria. The saint is dressed in a light blue mantle and green robe, and seated on a wooden Gothic throne, whose brown colour is created by a lightly tinted transparent flux over the plain silver. The arms of the throne are of buttress form, its back is engraved with a diaper pattern. The saint holds a martyr's palm in her right hand, and her attribute of a wheel in her left. She is wearing a crown, rendered by outlining in brown enamel, as is her halo. The background is delicately pounced with two plant sprays, smaller versions of these sprays decorate the convex upper surface of the broad moulded frame within which the enamelled panel is recessed.
The frame acts as the upper section of the relic case. It is decorated with ten broad quatrefoil rosettes, orginally covered with rouge cler enamel on the petals, the plain silver studs represent the stamens. The underside of the frame originally had a sliding cover slotted from the top into the two vertical sides of the case; this is now missing and the octagonal crystal cover of the relic now forms the back cover of the whole. This cover is held by four silver corners engraved with naturalistic trefoils with serrated edges. The case is held within a stylized hedge-shaped frame with lopped boughs to which it is attached by fourteen naturalistic leaves whose stems clasp the bough frame below. At the top two loops for suspension.

Place of Origin

France (made)

Date

ca. 1370-1395 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Silver, silver-gilt, enamel, rock crystal.

Dimensions

Height: 6.3 cm including loops, Width: 5 cm

Historical context note

HOLY RELICS

The bones, clothing or possessions associated with Christ and the saints were known as relics. In the Middle Ages and later they were credited with miraculous powers and much venerated. They were kept in secure containers called reliquaries, whose costly materials and beautiful workmanship reflected the importance of their contents. The relics themselves are occasionally visible, set beneath crystal windows and sometimes wrapped in a parchment tag inscribed with the name of the saint.

Reliquaries were made in many forms. Some are modelled in the shape of the relic itself but most are box-shaped or of architectural form. The costliest are of gold and silver, embellished with precious stones, though many are of gilded and enamelled copper, decorated with scenes from the life of the saint. Cathedrals and major churches accumulated large collections of reliquaries, which were formally displayed near the high altar on major feast-days. Most of those in museum collections no longer contain their relics.

Descriptive line

Reliquary pendant depicting St Catherine of Alexandria, silver, silver-gilt, enamel and rock crystal. France, ca. 1370-1395. There is a small fragment of cloth beneath the rock crystal on the back of the pendant.

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

Ronald Lightbown, Medieval European Jewellery, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1992, cat. 39. p. 504.

Labels and date

St Catherine Reliquary Pendant

The bones and possessions associated with Christ and the saints are known as relics. In
the Middle Ages and later they were believed to have miraculous powers and were greatly venerated.

The relics were kept in special containers, called reliquaries, whose costly materials and beautiful workmanship reflected the importance of their contents. The relics themselves are occasionally visible, set beneath crystal windows and wrapped in a parchment tag with the name of the saint. Cathedrals and major churches accumulated reliquaries and displayed them on or near the high altar on major holy days.

This reliquary would have hung in a private chapel. It shows St Catherine holding her emblem, a wheel, the symbol of the torture she suffered before martyrdom. Her fashionably coiffed hair befits her rank as princess. A cloth fragment, the relic, is placed under crystal on the back.

Paris, France, about 1380–90
Silver gilt, with crystal and translucent enamel
Museum no. M.350-1912 [31/110/2005]
RELIQUARY PENDANT
Silver-gilt, enamelled in translucent enamel with a figure of St. Catherine (front) and set on the back with an octagonal rock-crystal covering a fragment of woven fabric.
German; early 15th century []

Production Note

Almost certainly a Paris workshop

Materials

Silver; Gold; Enamel; Rock crystal

Techniques

Engraving; Gilding; Enamelling

Categories

Jewellery; Metalwork; Religion; Christianity

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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