Friday, December 29, 2006

Still more 16th-century crosses

part iii

As I mentioned in a couple of previous posts, I keep my eyes open for photos of interesting 16th- and 17th-century crosses, especially those suitable for paternosters or rosaries. Collecting photos trains my "eye" for what is and isn't appropriate for the period -- and most of what's currently produced is not, since fashions have changed.

In this post, I have photos of two crosses that no one would dream of producing nowadays -- and probably the prices on any like them for sale would be in the tens of thousands of dollars. But we can all look at them and drool, anyway....

I've mentioned before that there are a number of 16th-century pieces -- including chalices, reliquaries and at least one rosary -- that contain elaborate miniature religious scenes carved from boxwood. The truly distinctive feature of this group of carvings, though, is that the scenes have a background of carefully inlaid, iridescent feathers. These are thought to be pieces made in the Spanish domains in the New World, and the featherwork seems to have developed out of Native American artistic tradition.

Here is an entire cross composed of these carvings, overlaid with transparent rock crystal. It is quite stunning, and in excellent condition.


The scenes mostly seem to be from the childhood of Jesus: starting with the Annunciation at the left end of the crossbar, Mary's visit to Elizabeth in the center (though I'm not entirely sure of this one, it fits here logically), and the Nativity on the right side of the crossbar.

Below the crossbar, the next scene seems to be the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple -- though this one is rather cryptic. The clues I'm looking at are the pointed hat on the man at left, and the small pillar or whatever it is below the infant.

Below that is the Flight into Egypt (to escape from King Herod's massacre of all young infants -- which we actually celebrated yesterday, December 28th, as the Feast of Holy Innocents).

I'm not certain what the bottom scene is. Logic would suggest the finding of the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple, where he was preaching to the elders. At any rate, it resembles some other depictions of this scene, which show the young Jesus standing in a sort of pulpit or under a canopy.

At the very top of the cross, the scene is very clearly the Resurrection -- Jesus climbing out of a horizontal tomb chest.

In the closeup view, you can see details of a few of the scenes, and a slightly better look at the feather background, especially in the scene below at right.


The second "ohmigosh, no one could afford this" cross is another one primarily of rock crystal, and this time, compartments in the crystal hold various relics.

I can't identify any of the relics from this view: if they have labels, they aren't visible, and the photo is not good enough to tell whether lettering is engraved on the oval "frame" around each one. It would be interesting to know what they are. Like the boxwood cross above, this could be a group of relics telling the story of Christ, or it may just be a collection of individual relics of someone's favorite saints.


The third cross here is, on the other hand, something that probably could be reproduced fairly readily by a modern jeweler. It's made of rock crystal (See? there is a theme here), though we can't tell how many pieces or how they are fitted together in this view. They are capped and held together by metal fittings, probably silver and perhaps originally gilded (because silver often is). The center fitting includes a small figure of Christ on the cross.


Rock crystal these days is not all that expensive, so given the motivation, I'd think a cross like this would be quite possible to reproduce for a reasonable price. The labor would be the biggest cost.

The market for historical reproductions of all kinds is lively, and still growing, so perhaps someone will take up this challenge. I'd be happy to see the result.

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