The cross shape of this silver reliquary signals that it was made to contain and protect a fragment of the cross on which Christ was crucified. Engraved on both sides with figures, it is enriched with bright gilding, niello, and pearls on its hinge.
On the obverse is the Crucifixion of Christ accompanied by half-length figures of the Virgin and St. John. Golgotha, the site of the Crucifixion, is represented by a rudimentary hill with the skull of Adam, reflecting the medieval understanding of the direct connection between Christ’s redemption of humankind through his sacrificial death and the fall of humankind into sin through Adam’s transgression. The circles above Christ symbolize the sun and the moon. On the reverse is the Virgin, her arms outstretched in prayer, represented as the perpetual intercessor between humankind and God.
This silver cross is one of a large and varied group of similarly made Byzantine reliquary crosses. A few gold examples survive, some partially enameled, many are silver, but the largest number are bronze with engraved figures. The type has front and back relic to be placed inside and secured. Many reliquary crosses still retain their original loop at the top, as this one does, indicating how they were suspended on a chain and worn as an enkolpion, that is, hung around the neck and resting on the chest.
- S. Zwirn
Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 61, no. 218.
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), 204-207, no. 196, pl. 128, colorpl. K.
G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 148, pl. p. 149.
C. J. Hahn, M. Bagnoli, D. Krueger, and H. A. Klein, Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe, exhibition catalogue, Cleveland Museum of Art; Walters Art Museum; The British Museum, October 17, 2010 - October 9, 2011, (Cleveland, Ohio; Baltimore; London; New Haven, Conn., 2010), 45-46, no. 27.
Acquired from George Zacos (dealer) by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1965.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.