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Pendant reliquary cross

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1350 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silver, silver gilt; enamel

  • Museum number:

    M.23-1968

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10, case 2

This object is an example of a pendant reliquary. The hinged lid opens to reveal a cavity that would once have held a relic. This may have been a section of the True Cross, as reliquaries often took the form of the relic they held. Personal reliquaries were popular in the Middle Ages and were worn by clerics and lay people alike.

From the 13th century onwards, recent saints such as St Francis and St Dominic, the founders of the orders that bear their names, became increasingly popular. The Franciscan and the Dominican orders encouraged personal devotion.

Relics were believed to have prophylactic (protective) powers. They were usually worn very close to the body. In the later Middle Ages, personal reliquaries were important not only for the holy item contained within them, but also for the richness and quality of the container itself. Whilst early examples of personal reliquaries were quite plain, later pieces became more ostentatious and elaborate. Such items of jewellery were presented as gifts by nobles and monarchs to other important members of society.

Physical description

Pendant reliquary cross, with trefoil ends and crocketed sides. Of silver, silver gilt and with translucent enamel, the front hinged at the top, lifting to reveal an opening for the relic, probably a fragment of the True Cross. A pierced hole at the centre of the front and back was perhaps intended for a bar fastening the relic. The front of the hinge is a restoration, and there is a copper tongue inserted for strengthening at the top of the reverse on the front face.
The figures are partly reserved, and partly enamelled on a ground of enamel. On the obverse is the central figure of Christ on the Cross, flanked on the left by St Francis holding a book and a cross, and on the right, by St Jerome, holding a church and a book. Above is God the Father, below is St Mary Magdalen, holding a jar of unguent. On the reverse is the central figure of the seated Virgin, with the Child seated on her left knee and playing with her veil. She is flanked on the left by a bishop saint holding a crozier and book, and on the right by St Dominic holding a cross and book. Above is St Paul, below is St Dominic.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)

Date

ca. 1350 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Silver, silver gilt; enamel

Dimensions

Height: 6.9 cm, Width: 5.9 cm, Depth: 0.6 cm, Weight: 0.02 kg

Object history note

Historical significance: The iconography of this piece reflects the growing popularity of recently canonised saints from the 13th century onwards. Both St Francis (1181-1226), founder of the Franciscans and St Dominic (c.1170-1221), founder of the Dominican movement, are depicted here in conjunction with many of the focal figures of the Christian religion. This is a sign of their immense influence and their new place as central personages in Christian art and literature. St Francis was born in Italy and St Dominic was buried there, which may explain the inclusion of these saints on this Italian work of art.

The inclusion of both St Francis and St Dominic upon this work of art may reinforce the personal nature of this object. Whilst an individual may have shown a devotion to both these saints, religious instirutions were more likely to associate themselves with either the Franciscan or the Dominican movement.

This object reflects the shifting popularity of Christian saints and martyrs in the medieval period. In the early middle ages, the classical saints provided the main focus of Christian worship. From the 13th century onwards however, recently canonised saints such as Thomas Becket (1118-70) and St Francis (1181-1226) grew in popularity. They displaced some of the more traditional saints as central representations of the Christian faith. For medieval people, 'Classical' saints such as Saint Paul (d. c.65AD) or Saint Catherine (4th century AD), were martyred in distant times, whilst 'new' saints were virtually or actually contemporary. Religious art evolved to reflect this change in emphasis and began to include many 'new' saints in its iconography.

Historical context note

The bones associated with saints and objects associated with Christ are known as relics. In the Middle Ages they were generally believed to have miraculous powers and were greatly venerated. Relics were kept in containers called reliquaries.

This object is an example of a pendant reliquary. The hinged lid opens to reveal a cavity that would once have held a relic. This may have been a section of the True Cross, as reliquaries often took the form of the relic they held. Personal reliquaries were popular in the Middle Ages and were worn by clerics and lay people alike. Relics were believed to have prophylactic (protective) powers. They were usually worn very close to the body. Some private reliquaries enabled relics to be removed, possibly for the purpose of touching or kissing the relic. In 1215 however, Canon 62 of the 4th Lateran Council forbade relics to be viewed outside their reliquaries (ut antiquae reliquiae amodo extra capsam non ostendantur, nec exponatur venales). From the 13th century onwards, personal reliquaries in glass or crystal were more common, as the relic could be seen without being removed from its shrine.

In the later Middle Ages, personal reliquaries were important not only for the holy item contained within them, but also for the richness and quality of the container itself. Whilst early examples of personal reliquaries were quite plain, later pieces became more ostentatious and elaborate. Such items of jewellery were presented as gifts by nobles and monarchs to other important members of society.

The wearing of pendant reliquaries combined elements of the sacred and the profane. They were at once objects of Christian faith and devotion and objects of unorthodox superstition, which were used as protective talismans.

Descriptive line

Pendant reliquary cross, silver, silver-gilt and translucent enamel, Italy, ca. 1350.

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

Lightbown, Ronald, Medieval European Jewellery, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1992, cat.36,p.502
Campbell, Marian, Medieval Jewellery in Europe 1100-1500, London, V&A Publishing, 2009, p.87, fig.91

Materials

Silver; Gold; Enamel

Techniques

Gilding; Enamelling

Categories

ELISE; Jewellery; Metalwork; Enamels; Religion; Christianity

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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