- Museum number
- Object: The Lothair Crystal
Intaglio; rock crystal; disc; engraved with eight episodes from the Story of Susanna. Top: temptation of Susanna, who stands with the Elders in an enclosed garden with a gate; she holds two vessels in her left hand; on right two servants in short tunics run to the aid of their mistress from a building with gabled roof. Below, on right: Elders in house of Joacim, ordering the servants to bring Susanna before them. Below: group with the Elders in their midst extending their hands over Susanna's head, while the remaining figures express amazement. Bottom, right: official with staff leads off Susanna, but is confronted by Daniel; to right and left two figures raise arms in astonishment; to left: Daniel rebukes one of the Elders, while behind two figures express their indignation and approval of his words. Above, left: Daniel convicts the second Elder of falsehood, while onlookers give vent to indignation; over this scene is the stoning of the Elders. Central medallion: liberated Susanna stands with hands extended before Daniel, who is on seat of judgement, two men stand to left, canopy covers all figures; in later copper-gilt mount with foliate borders; perhaps later used as a morse. On the engraved side the crystal is slightly convex; but on the smooth side the central area, about 50mm across, is flat, while the edges are bevelled.
- Production date
855-869 (?; crystal)
843-855 (?; crystal)
Diameter: 115 millimetres (crystal)
Diameter: 183 millimetres (incl frame)
Weight: 650 grammes (incl frame)
Thickness: 13 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Text from Dalton 1915, Catalogue of Engraved Gems:
Archaeologia, lix, pp. 25 ff.; E. Babelon, Laa gravure sur gemmes en France, pp. 24 ff., La gravure en pierres fines, p. 231, and Comptes rendus des Séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 1895, p. 410; A. Becquet, Annales de la Société archéologique de Namur, xviii, 1899; P. Lauer, Bulletin de la Société des Antiq. francais, 1908, pp. 102-7. Other references in Archaeologia, p. 25.
In a copper-gilt mount of the fifteenth century, with floriated border.It has been suggested that the jewel was used as a morse.
The style of the figures of the Virgin and St. John, Longinus and Stephaton, upon a rock-crystal intaglio in the Cabinet des Médailles is similar to that of the figures on the Crystal of Lothair, and the two cannot be far removed from each other in date (E. Babelon, p. 28 and pl. iii).
The Lothair here mentioned must either be the emperor (843-855), or his son of the same name, who reigned 855-69. Comparison with manuscripts and ivory carvings suggests that the crystal was carved at a later date than 817, when the first Lothair was associated in the Empire by Louis the Debonair. Since after the year 817, this Lothair probably styled himself IMPERATOR, whereas the owner of the crystal is only described as REX, it seems best to connect the jewel with the younger Lothair, and suppose it to have been engraved about the middle of the ninth century.
Nothing is recorded of the Crystal of Lothair during the first century of its existence. But from the end of that period.its story is known continuously down to our own day. The early adventures which befell it are related in the Chronicle of the Abbey of Waulsort or Vasor on the Meuse and are the most remarkable associated with any medaeival object. (See Archaeologia, p. 35.) After remaining undisturbed in that abbey for more than eight hundred years, it was lost at the period of the French Revolution, at which time it may have received the crack which now disfigures it. Possibly it was thrown into the Meuse on the occasion of the French advance; for about the middle of last century it reappeared in the shop of a Belgian dealer, who said it had been recovered from the bed of that river, in itself a credible statement. It was bought by a French collector for twelve francs, and ultimately came into the possession of Mr Bernal, at whose sale at Christie's, in 1855, it was acquired by the British Museum.
Supplementary information to Dalton 1915:
Another Carolingian crystal in the Diocesan Museum in Freiburg-i-B. described in Festschrift zum 60. Geburtstag von Paul Clemer, Düsseldorf (1926) p. 241.
Dijkdrent, M., 2021. The Lothar Crystal as a Relic of Saint Eligius. Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art and Architecture 7:3, pp. 1-26. Available online at https://digital.kenyon.edu/perejournal/vol7/iss3/1/ [accessed 8 June 2021]
Flint, V. I. J., 1995. Susanna and the Lothar Crystal: A Liturgical Perspective. Early Medieval Europe 4:1, pp. 61–86
Kornbluth, G., 1995. Engraved Gems of the Carolingian Empire. Pennsylvania State University Press, cat. no. 1.
Lasko 1972, pls. 44-45
Bull. Soc. Ant. Fr., 1908, pp. 102-7
King, C. W., 1866. Handbook of Engraved Gems, p. 117.
Behr, H. G., 1857. Guide to the Pottery etc. of the Bernal Collection, with prices paid at the Auction, and present owners. London, p. 130.
- On display (G41/dc3/sC)
- Exhibition history
2018 19 Apr-22 Jul, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2001 6 Apr-26 Sep, York, Yorkshire Museum, The Golden Age of York: Alcuin and Charlemagne
1996 31 Aug-17 Nov, Netherlands, Utrecht, Museum Catharijneconvent, The Utrecht Psalter
- Associated titles
Inscription from: History of Susanna
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- According to handwritten notes in Dalton 1915, Mr Bernal paid £10.0s.0d. but the Auction room price was £267.0.0.
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: BL.1295 (Bernal Collection)