Height: 6.120 cm
Width: 3.090 cm
Thickness: 8.700 mm
Length: 62.200 cm (chain)
Room 40: Medieval Europe
Gold and enamel reliquary cross
Byzantine, early 11th century
Probably from Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey)
The Mother of God and Saints
This superb small pendant is said to have been found on the site of the Great Palace at Constantinople. It formed part of the famous collection of Adolphe Stoclet before being purchased by The British Museum.
The cross is hinged at the top and bottom; the cap on one end of the top hinge unscrews so the two sides can be opened to reveal a relic, possibly a fragment from the True Cross. The enamel sheet from the front of the plaque is missing, but the reverse is well-preserved. It depicts the Virgin Mary standing with Her hands before her chest in an attitude of prayer. To her right is a bust of St Basil the Great and to the left a bust of St Gregory Thaumaturgus. Greek inscriptions identify all of the figures.
The enamel on this cross is known by a German term, Senkschmelz ('sunken enamel') where figures are silhouetted against bare metal, appearing to float on a gold ground. The colours are a rich mixture of translucent blues, greens and browns with opaque whites, blacks, blues and reds.
D. Buckton (ed.), Byzantium: treasures of Byzant (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)
H. Tait (ed.), Seven thousand years of jewell (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)