This is a rare and spectacular double reliquary. The convent/monastery work bears a large initial "M" for Mary at the center which is embellished by seed pearls, gilt paperolles and turquoise beads. It has the addition of a silver reliquary encased within the frame, which is most unusual. It originates from a lifelong religious collection and dates from the period of Napoleon III, 1860.
It is a large piece, with outside framed measurements of 10 1/2" x 9 1/4". The large central oval (design work) measures 7" x 5 1/4". This type of work was uniquely made in convents and monasteries during this period. Often large and special pieces such as this were made as a thanksgiving for a large donation by a wealthy patron.
The design is attached to creme colored moire silk. There are two Dresden (gilded) paper frames (circles and flowers) around the outer edge. An extravagantly large "M" initial takes up more than 2/3 of the face of the design (3 1/2" x 3 3/4"). The initial is made of thick paperboard which has been covered with gilded Dresden paper. The tiniest of gilded paperolle flowers serve to form leaves surrounding the design. Tiny seed pearls outline the entire initial. Flowers are formed by turquoise seed beads interspersed by gilt seed bead centers. Large blue marbled beads are placed at the center and bottom sides. The bouquets are exquisitely fashioned and are very lifelike and flowing. At the bottom center is a silver reliquary which has a row of gilded Dresden paper along the side. It also is adorned with a gilded flower frame.
The walnut frame (2" wide) has two deep grooves as was "a la mode" during this period. There is a brass ring which serves as a mount for the convex glass. The back paper of the frame is not original to the piece, and is a combination of papers used from the past to reinforce the backing. There is a metal ring at the back for threading a ribbon or chain. This example is in very good antique condition: no cracks or chips to the glass, little wear to the frame, some darkening to the silk: the design is intact and sturdy: the back (as noted) has been added to in restoration over the years.
Given that it is a reliquary which encases a reliquary gives this example and exceptional history. The use of fine beads and seed pearls is also unusual and adds an additional richness to the piece. Perhaps the silver reliquary was an heirloom for which the nuns fashioned a spectacular devotional frame. The beauty of these special framed reliquaries is that no two are alike; each one made by an individual who placed a bit of their love for Christ into the devotional piece.
It is an amazing representative of the delicate and very fine work which was fashioned by nuns during the period of Napoleon III.