Dating to c.1350 for the image of the crowned Madonna and child and c.1600 for the relics, rock crystal lenses, and silver mounting, I am thrilled to present this sublime French double-sided devotional jewel for the consideration of my holiday-shopping Ruby Lane clientele!
Measuring 2" tall x 1 3/8" wide x just over 3/8" thick, this important reliquary pendant represents well over 650 years of Church history, and is a highly-important discovery! The front of the reliquary is set with an early 15th century watercolor on vellum portrait of of the Virgin Mary crowned, and the Christ child holding a basket of bread. The Virgin is depicted as the Queen of Heaven, and wears a golden crown atop her blonde hair, as well as an ermine cloak and blue gown.
Mary looks very regal, and is the ideal of late medieval beauty and style, looking almost like a young secular French noblewoman of c.1350! (Neither she nor the Christ child wear a nimbus; could this be a deliberate omission?) Mary holds the sword of Christ's martyrdom in her left hand, and gestures to the baby Jesus with her right, as if foretelling His fate. She stands in the midst of a grassy field, with blue sky in the background. The Christ child wears a golden robe with short sleeves, and displays the distinct "small adult" features which are a clue to its early date.
This image was already 250 years old when it was chosen to adorn the front of this beautiful reliquary. The reverse of the reliquary is contemporary to the setting, and dates to c.1600. This image, also painted in watercolors on vellum, is easily the MOST unusual that I have seen in a reliquary of any date! The scene of a forest, mountains and water clearly has a Chinese influence; Chinese porcelains were first introduced into Europe in the 14th century, and were regarded as objects of great rarity and luxury. By the late 16th century, Chinese influence in art was in high fashion in France and Italy; this image looks very much like one which would be found on a Ming Dynasty vase! JUST AMAZING!
But wait; it gets even better! Set at the bottom of this image are five tiny saint's relics, each encircled by a gold leaf border. Each relic is identified with early 16th-century Latinate script in a red or blue banner, but two of these names have been worn away, and the remaining three are written in such an ornate font that they are difficult to read. However, all five relics are present (one has come loose from its circle and is literally sitting in the branches of the tree to the right), and it would be a fascinating research project for the new owner to identify them!
This is just the sort of jewel which would tell a magnificent story could it speak, and one cannot help but wonder who first owned this devotional jewel. She would have been a French Renaissance lady of considerable wealth, and a member of the High Church; that much is certain. At this point, you may be wondering why the images are set upside down; when this jewel was made, it was made with the wearer in mind. She would have worn it on a long silver chain, and when she lifted it, her eyes would meet those of the Virgin and Child as she said her prayers. How beautiful is THAT?
Both images are framed beneath their original rock crystal covers, and the whole of the reliquary is mounted as a pendant in a beautiful frame of sterling-grade silver (unmarked but tested). The top of the pendant boasts the trefoil design predominant in bails of this era, and the crystals are secured by dozens of tiny silver tabs. The sides of the frame boast an egg-and-dart style border with hand-engraved detail. SIMPLY OUTSTANDING!
This museum-worthy religious pendant is easily the most intriguing that I have offered in my 11+ years as a Ruby Lane Platinum-Level dealer, and has made it into the 21st-century in as fine a condition as the most discerning collector could expect. It is completely intact, without repairs or replacements. Only two of the dozens of silver tabs are "tipped," and the crystals are free from scratches or chips. The side with the relics is naturally slightly brighter than that of the Virgin and Child; you must remember that it was a relic in and of itself at the time this item was wrought!
Simply a very special example of early devotional Church jewelry, this reliquary weighs in at 22.26 grams. It is worthy of the finest collection, and is still wearable after over four centuries of gentle wear! It looks particularly beautiful worn on a long silver chain in true early 17th-century style! If you collect the ULTIMATE in Italian High Church jewelry, this historic example belongs in your collection! It would also make the gift of a lifetime for that special lady or gentleman of faith, and will be shipped in a gift box. As with all of my items pre-dating 1700, I will include a COA and valuation for your insurance purposes at no extra cost. Do not miss this rarity; up to 90-day layaway is available, and USPS Priority mail shipping is FREE!
Your Specialists in Fine Jewelry and Decorative Arts from Antiquity - 1900. Est. 1987.
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