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Cross

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    14th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Copper-gilt, wood, crystal, coral

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dr W.L. Hildburgh

  • Museum number:

    M.2-1951

  • Gallery location:

    Sacred Silver & Stained Glass, Room 84, The Whiteley Galleries, case 4

The cross is the central emblem of Christianity and the symbol of Christ’s Crucifixion. It first appeared about 350, possibly for use in private prayer. Until about 1000 the custom was to suspend a cross above the altar, or to place it alongside, but later the cross was generally put directly on the altar. Crosses were also carried in procession before a service, and on ceremonial occasions such as funerals.

Both altar and processional crosses were generally made of precious or gilded metal, or ivory, and decorated with gems. The coral in this unusual altar cross may symbolise the blood of Christ. Coral is uncommon on crosses but it was a popular material for jewellery, especially rosaries, and was believed to have protective powers. Originally the cross may have relics (body parts or fragments associated with saints) set beneath the crystals.

From about 800 they bore the image of the crucified Christ and became known as crucifixes. By about 1100 the imagery of European crosses had become established. It usually included the symbols of the four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), often with the Virgin Mary and St John flanking the cross.

Physical description

Engraved copper- gilt on a wooden foundation set with crystal panels for covering relics and adorned with corals. The knop set with nielloed silver plaques, late 15th century.
Arms ending in ogee quatrefoils; the front and back engraved with foliage in reserve against a pounced ground and set with five diagonally set windows for relics covered by crystals. The ends of the arms are decorated with plain ball knobs in between which are spikes for holding some sort of finial (all of which are wanting). The back and front are studded with coral beads fourteen of which remain.
Depressed spherical knop embossed with foliage and set with round silver plaques nielloed with rosettes; spreading socket.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)

Date

14th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Copper-gilt, wood, crystal, coral

Dimensions

Height: 19.5 in, Width: 11.75 in

Object history note

Hildburgh Gift

Historical context note

Altar and Processional Crosses
The cross is the distinctive emblem of Christianity and the symbol of Christ's crucifixion. Models of the cross begin to appear from about 350 AD, probably for use in private prayer. Only from about 1000 was a cross regularly placed on the altar during Mass; a more ancient custom was to suspend a cross above the altar or to place one beside it. Crosses were also carried in procession before a service. In early centuries these were hand-held, later replaced by more visible crosses raised on staffs.

Both altar and processional crosses were generally made of precious or gilt metal, or ivory, and decorated with gems. From about 800 they were adorned with the image of the crucified Christ and became known as crucifixes. By about 1100 the iconography of European crosses had become established, usually including the symbols of the four Evangelists, often with the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist flanking the figure of Christ crucified.

Descriptive line

Copper-gilt, wood and crystal, Italy, ca.1300-50

Labels and date

Altar Cross
The cross is the central emblem of Christianity and the symbol of Christ's Crucifixion. It first appeared about 350, possibly for use in private prayer. Until about 1000 the custom was to suspend a cross above the altar, or to place it alongside, but later the cross was generally put directly on the altar. Crosses were also carried in procession before a service, and on ceremonial occasions such as funerals.

Both altar and processional crosses were generally made of precious or gilded metal, or ivory, and decorated with gems. The coral in this unusual altar cross may symbolise the blood of Christ. Coral is uncommon on crosses but it was a popular material for jewellery, especially rosaries, and was believed to have protective powers. Originally the cross may have relics (body parts or fragments associated with saints) set beneath the crystals.

From about 800 they bore the image of the crucified Christ and became known as crucifixes. By about 1100 the imagery of European crosses had become established. It usually included the symbols of the four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), often with the Virgin Mary and St John flanking the cross.

Probably Naples, Italy, about 1350-1400, the
knop perhaps about 1500. Copper gilt on wood,
engraved, set with crystal panels and corals;
knop with nielloed silver plaques
Museum no. M.2-1951. Hildburgh Gift 5) [22/11/2005]

Materials

Copper; Wood; Crystal; Coral

Techniques

Gilding

Categories

Religion; Christianity; Metalwork

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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