Mosan-Rhenish, probably Cologne, circa 1180-1200 and later
- Reliquary Cross with enamel plaques
- gilt copper, champlevé enamel, gilt bronze, rock crystal, and glass stones, on a wood core
- Mosan-Rhenish, probably Cologne, circa 1180-1200 and later
thence by family descent
Ambitious metalwork, including enamelling, flourished in the Meuse valley during the late Romanesque period, reaching its zenith in the third quarter of the 12th century. A similar tradition developed along the Lower and Middle Rhine, particularly in Cologne, with clearly recognisable cross-influences between the two regions continuing well into the thirteenth century. This tradition manifested itself most famously in the great reliquary shrines of circa 1160-1200, such as the St Servatius Shrine in Maastricht and the Shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne. These shrines comprised a variety of materials and techniques, combining statuettes, repoussé reliefs, enamel, vernis brun, filigree, engraving, and hardstone inlay, to create magnificent centrepieces for churches and cathedrals. Stylistically the two regions were so closely linked that the attribution of fragments to one region over another is a 'delicate matter' which 'has caused controversy' (Stratford, op. cit., p. 11).
While the enamel plaques mounted on the present cross relate to both Mosan and Rhenish works, their most likely place of origin is arguably Cologne. The beautiful foliage enamel displayed in four of the plaques compares in both form and colour scheme to a group surrounding the Maurinus Shrine in St Pantaleon, Cologne, of circa 1170. Note the presence of at least two colours in each field and the general design of symmetrically interlocking branches ending in rounded leaf shapes, typically graded from dark green to yellow, or dark blue to white, with small areas of red in places (Foto Marburg, no. C 1.852.033). A closely related, but more diverse, style of enamelling is seen in the domed tabernacle in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. no. 7650-1851), a Cologne product of circa 1180. What sets the present enamels apart from these is the presence of small jagged leaves in the design. These are, however, found in other Cologne enamels from the late 12th century, such as the domed reliquary in Darmstadt (Hessisches Landesmuseum, inv. no. Kg 54:239), and a Cross from St Pantaleon (v. Falke, op. cit., pl. 41).
The remaining two enamel plaques show figures in gilt copper on a dark blue enamel ground, a technique seen in the decoration of several Mosan-Rhenish ecclesiastical monuments. The plaque at the top of the cross depicting a lion opposite a hooded chimaera is a particularly rare survival. It appears to show the influence of Nicolas of Verdun, the most prominent Mosan goldsmith at the cusp between the Romanesque and the Gothic period around 1180-1200. The lion's clearly delineated anatomy recalls the Samson and the Lion plaque from Nicolas of Verdun’s Klosterneuburg retable (see Rhein und Maas, vol. 2, p. 233), for which the artist drew from antique precedents. The rather grotesque face of the chimaera, on the other hand, has parallels in both Rhenish and Mosan manuscripts; see a devil in the Deutz Chronik (Rhein und Maas, vol. 2, p. 318, fig. 26) and a dragon head in the St Bertin book (Stratford, op. cit., pl. 22); while for a similar hooded creature, compare an early 13th-century book cover in Namur (Rhein und Maas, vol. 1, p. 350, no. M 6/7). The two birds between foliage mounted at the bottom of the cross are of a type seen in a number of Cologne shrines, notably the Albinus Shrine of circa 1186 (v. Falke, op. cit., pl. 20) and the Anno Shrine in Siegburg (ibid., pl. 25).
Their correspondence in size and facture indicates that all six enamel plaques originate from the same object. Given their high quality, and the fact that enamels from this period were not made for mass-production, this is likely to have been an object of some importance, like a reliquary shrine. The stippled gilt copper plates with round rock crystals set into scalloped mounts, and the smaller engraved gilt copper plates, appear to be of the same date as the enamels and may have come from the same, or a similar, original context. Parallels for these are found in the gable-end of a shrine preserved in the British Museum (inv. no. 1978,5-2,7), catalogued as Mosan, circa 1165-70 (Stratford, op. cit., no. 17). Incidentally, several of the enamel plaques on this object are remarkably close in style to those of the Maurinus shrine and the present foliate enamels, testifying to the close links between Mosan and Rhenish goldsmiths. A Mosan origin therefore remains a possibility for the present enamels.
The remaining parts of the cross are of a later date, the reliquary base with quatrefoil openings and lion feet being the earliest. Stylistically it can be dated to the Gothic period, probably the 14th century, as comparisons with the base of a late 13th-century figure in the Metropolitan Museum (inv. no. 47.101.49) and small lion supports in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (inv. no. 57.171) suggest. The gilt bronze Crucifix appears to have been made in the early 16th century, while the stippled copper plates at the back with depictions of saints are more difficult to date, but may be contemporary with the Corpus.
It is possible that the Romanesque elements were assembled with the later parts as early as the 16th century. Two other composite crosses incorporating Romanesque enamels, one in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. no. 7234-1860) and one in the British Museum (inv. no. 56,7-18,1), are thought to have been put together during this period; the latter likely as part of the Counter-Reformation effort after many ecclesiastical treasures had been destroyed and fragmented (see Stratford, op. cit., p. 76). A similar fate can be reconstructed for a composite cross with Romanesque enamels in the Musées royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Brussels (see Balace, op. cit.). The possibility of an assemblage, or at least alteration, in the 19th century is, however, not to be excluded, within the context of objects designed to appeal to a growing number of collectors. Due to the rarity of its earliest components, and its attractive overall appearance, the cross would have been a highly desirable collector's item.
O. von Falke and H. Frauberger (eds.), Deutsche Schmelzarbeiten des Mittelalters, Frankfurt am Main, 1904; Rhein und Maas: Kunst und Kultur 800-1400, exh. cat. Cologne and Brussels, Cologne, 1972; N. Netzer, Catalogue of Medieval Objects: Metalwork, cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1991, p. 142, no. 51; N. Stratford, Catalogue of Medieval Enamels in the British Museum, vol. II: Northern Romanesque Enamel, London, 1993; S. Balace, 'La croix inv. 2991 des Musées royaux d'Art et d'Histoire provenant de l'abbaye de Saint-Ghislain', in Bulletin des Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, vol. 70, 1999, pp. 207-222
An analysis report on the enamels prepared by Professor Andrew Shortland at Cranfield Forensic Institute is available from the department on request.