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Hinged Closure with Christ and the Virgin

second half of the 10th century - early 11th century
2.3 cm x 5 cm (7/8 in. x 1 15/16 in.)
enamel on gold

On view


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The most refined application of cloisonné enamel on an extremely small size is exemplified by this gold quatrefoil. Bust-length images of Christ blessing on one side and the Virgin in prayer on the other reveal the consummate skill of an artist in complete control of this demanding technique: the refinement of the drapery, hands, and even individual fingers; color changes on the clothing; facial features; patterns on the haloes and on the Gospel book; as well as the roundels with the abbreviations of “Jesus Christ” and “Mother of God” are exquisite details within the overall image. This ability to handle the cloisons and the enamel colors while working at a miniaturist’s scale, like a manuscript illuminator, and convey the charisma of the figures is the very skill that created the Byzantine reputation for refined cloisonné enamel work throughout western medieval culture. Works like this one made enamels an especially desirable target during the looting of Constantinople by Latin crusaders during the devastating Fourth Crusade in 1204 and explains why so many are today in Western church treasuries.

Formerly called a clasp, this quatrefoil could not have served that purpose because it does not open and close. In all probability, it was a permanent closure for a chain with a cross, worn by placing it over the head, as a silver and niello closure with a long chain in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection suggests. It is not known who might have owned such a chain or on what occasions it was worn, although this quatrefoil does show traces of wear. Despite these and the loss of the small pearls that encircled it on the fine wire that remains, the condition of this fine gold and enamel quatrefoil is excellent.

- S. Zwirn

Catalogue of medieval works of art comprising ... the property of Mr. Philippe R. Stoclet (from the collection of the late Adolphe Stoclet) ... and Renaissance works of art ... which will be sold by auction by Messrs. Sotheby & Co. ... at their large galleries ... Tuesday, April 27th, 1965 ... (London, 1965), no. 33.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 69-70, no. 249.

C. Mango, "The Byzantine Collection," Apollo 119 (1984): 21-29, fig. 11.

M. C. Ross, S. A. Boyd, and S. R. Zwirn, Jewelry, Enamels, and Art of the Migration Period, Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection 2, 2nd ed. (Washington, D.C., 2005), 213-215, no. 199, pl. 131, colorpl. L.

G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 144, pl. p. 145.

Acquisition History
Acquired by Andronicus (dealer), Istanbul.

Collection of Adolphe Stoclet, Brussels.

Collection of Philippe Stoclet.

Anonymous gift to Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., in memory of Frances Lake Thacher, 1965.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.