Friday, September 01, 2006

Some 16th and 17th c. crosses

I have a couple of things I'd like to write about that are turning out to involve more research than I expected, so this is an "in the meantime" post.

I've been meaning to say something, anyway, about some photos I've been collecting of 16th and 17th-century crosses. These are one of my examples of how historical rosary parts can be quite different in style from anything I can find through "creative shopping" on the current market. (Adding to the angst of anyone like me who is trying to make reproductions without being able to do my own metal casting!)

If tradition is correct about the first two of these, they are definitely 16th century, as they are both supposed to have belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots, who died in 1582. The second one is from the gold filigree rosary that she is said to have carried to her execution.


Several of the other photos I've found are of crosses from the Iberian peninsula, which may be 16th or possibly 17th century. In the absence of accompanying information, crosses like this are very difficult to date -- unlike, for instance, dress styles, which changed more often and more obviously. Crosses of gold and precious stones frequently have survived the centuries mostly because of their precious-metal content, and second, because of their artistry, and previous owners often have discarded any historical information as a detail of little importance.


My sources for these photos, by the way, demonstrate that the best sources of information about historical rosaries are often books about quite different subjects: in this case, not books about religious devotion, but books about jewelry. I found the Hispanic pieces in two excellent books: Jewels in Spain, 1500-1800 by Priscilla E. Muller (1972, The Hispanic Society of America) and Five centuries of Jewelry by Leonor d'Orey (1995, Institut Portuguese de Museus, Zwemmer).

First is a Spanish cross almost identical to the one on Queen Mary's rosary above, but showing a bit more detail:


The cross below, shown front and back, is probably from Portugal. Many pieces of 16th and 17th-century jewelry, including pendants, lockets and watches, had enameled designs like these on the backs. I love the colors on this one.


The last two crosses here are very good examples of styles of decoration that I wish modern jewelers would reproduce. You'll note that none of these crosses have flared or elaborated ends at the top, bottom or ends of the arms. While that style is not unknown in the 16th century, somehow in more recent times it has become the dominant style, making it hard to find crosses with plain straight ends.


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