Reliquary Cross

ca. 1050 (made)
Reliquary Cross thumbnail 1
Reliquary Cross thumbnail 2
+10
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The delicately carved archer on the lid of this cross probably represents a figure from the Old Testament: Ishmael, son of Abraham. The reverse shows the Lamb of God surrounded by the four symbols of the evangelists. The cross originally formed a case for a gold box, perhaps containing relics of the True Cross.

The iconography is complex, but fully within the Anglo-Saxon tradition. All four sides are carved with versions of the Tree of Life, the vine scroll clustered with living creatures, which symbolises both the union of God and his creation, and of Christ and the Church.The image of the Agnus Dei surrounded by the four evangelist symbols, which unites both eucharistic and apocalyptic themes and so links to the christological themes seen on the back and sides. Stylistically, the cross is without close parallel although its decoration is related to the Trinity Gospels which is dated to about 1020. Therefore a date around the middle of the eleventh century is possible.
The cross was evidently intended both as a reliquary, presumably for an enshrined piece of the True Cross and as a pectoral cross. The shape, with its curious resemblance to a wheel-headed cross, particularly emphatic on the Agnus Dei side, is distinctly archaic for an eleventh-century date and suggests that the reliquary within could have been somewhat older than the ivory container which may have modelled its shape on the earlier piece.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Walrus ivory with silver fittings
Brief Description
Reliquary cross, walrus ivory, Anglo-Saxon, probably, mid 11th century
Physical Description
Pendant reliquary cross with pointed base, short lateral and upper arms and a circular centre. It has a hinged lid at the front and is carved on all sides with openwork ornament. The integral suspension attachment consists of three-dimensional openwork foliage spray. The lid is hinged with two silver rivets. Its decoration consists of an elaborate inhabited vine scroll with grooved stem which grows up from the base and is clasped at intervals by short tufts of acanthus growing out of the plain border whicxh runs round the entire composition.

At the centre of the cross an archer crouches in foliage aiming upwards at a bird biting a cherry; below him an entangled quadruped bites at the foliage.

On the reverse is a central roundel containing the Agnus Dei with a halo and cross surrounded by the four evangelist symbols with wings and halos in semicircular frames. The two sides are also decorated with regular inhabited plant scrolls, that on the right side with biting quadrupeds and small flowers, that on the left with a more robust scroll and a mixture of birds and quadrupeds. The decoration of the two ends of the lateral arms consists of: left, an eagle subduing a monster in its talons; and right a symmetrical acanthus scroll with lobed leaves.
Dimensions
  • Height: 11.9cm
  • Width: 4.7cm
  • Depth: 2.5cm
  • Weight: 0.1kg
Style
Gallery Label
RELIQUARY CROSS Walrus ivory ANGLO-SAXON Middle of the 11th century A.6-1966 Bought with the aid of a special grant from the exchequer and with assistance from the National Art Collections Fund. On the lid is an archer (probably to be identified as Ishmael, son of Abraham and Hagar) aiming at a bird; on the back is the lamb of God surrounded by the four symbols of the Evangelists. The cross originally formed a case for a gold box, which could have contained relics of a fragment of the True Cross.
Credit line
Purchased with the aid of a special grant from the Exchequer and Art Fund support
Object history
The cross was first published in 1855 in the Journal of the British Archeological Association, X, 1855, p. 185 and pl. 22. It surfaced again in 1966 when it was bought by the Museum from Sotheby's sale 22 March 1966, for £40,000.



Historical significance: The iconography is complex but fully within the Anglo-Saxon tradition. All four sides are carved with versions of the Tree of Life, the vine scroll clustered with living creatures, which symbolises both the union of God and his creation, and of Christ and the Church.The image of the Agnus Dei surrounded by the four evangelist symbols, which unites both eucharistic and apocalyptic themes and so links to the christological themes seen on the back and sides. Stylistically, the cross is without close parallel although its decoration is related to the Trinity Gospels which is dated to about 1020. Therefore a date around the middle of the eleventh century is possible.
Historical context
The cross was evidently intended both as a reliquary, presumably for an enshrined piece of the True Cross and as a pectoral cross. The openwork construction was to reveal a metal reliquary housed inside. The shape, with its curious resemblance to a wheel-headed cross, particularly emphatic on the Agnus Dei side, is distinctly archaic for an eleventh-century date and suggests that the reliquary within could have been somewhat older than the ivory container which may have modelled its shape on the earlier piece.
Production
probably mid 11th century
Subjects depicted
Summary
The delicately carved archer on the lid of this cross probably represents a figure from the Old Testament: Ishmael, son of Abraham. The reverse shows the Lamb of God surrounded by the four symbols of the evangelists. The cross originally formed a case for a gold box, perhaps containing relics of the True Cross.



The iconography is complex, but fully within the Anglo-Saxon tradition. All four sides are carved with versions of the Tree of Life, the vine scroll clustered with living creatures, which symbolises both the union of God and his creation, and of Christ and the Church.The image of the Agnus Dei surrounded by the four evangelist symbols, which unites both eucharistic and apocalyptic themes and so links to the christological themes seen on the back and sides. Stylistically, the cross is without close parallel although its decoration is related to the Trinity Gospels which is dated to about 1020. Therefore a date around the middle of the eleventh century is possible.

The cross was evidently intended both as a reliquary, presumably for an enshrined piece of the True Cross and as a pectoral cross. The shape, with its curious resemblance to a wheel-headed cross, particularly emphatic on the Agnus Dei side, is distinctly archaic for an eleventh-century date and suggests that the reliquary within could have been somewhat older than the ivory container which may have modelled its shape on the earlier piece.
Bibliographic References
  • P. Williamson and L.Webster, 'The coloured decoration of Anglo-Saxon ivory carvings',in S. Carter, D. Park, P. Williamson (eds), Early Medieval Wall Painting and Painted Sculpture in England. (BAR British Serries 216, Oxford, 1990, p.179, pl. 11)
  • Beckwith, J. 'A Rediscovered English reliquary cross', V&A Bulletin, II, 1966, pp. 117 A.
  • Raw, Barbara C. The Archer, the Eagle and the Lamb (Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 30, 1967, pp. 391-394)
  • Schapire, M, 'The Bowman and the Bird on the Ruthwell Cross and other works: The interpretation of secular themes in early medieva, religious art', Art Bulletin, XLV, 1963, p.351.
  • Kahn, D, Canterbury Cathedral and its Romanesque Sculpture, London, 1991, p. 184, no. 20.
  • Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 248-253, cat.no. 64
  • Bardiès-Fronty, Isabelle, and Xavier Dectot, Celtes et Scandinaves: Rencontres artistiques VIIe-XIIe siècle, Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais, 2008
  • Backhouse, Janet (Ed.), The Golden Age of Anglo-Saxon art, 966-1066, London, British Museum, 1984
  • Beckwith, John, Ivory Carvings in early medieval England, 700-1200, London, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1974
Collection
Accession Number
A.6-1966

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record createdMarch 8, 2004
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