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Very Rare 17th C. Reliquary Cross Pendant


Far preceding the development of the Roman Catholic Church, reliquaries have existed in one form or another for millennia. Meant as a container for a sacred or beloved object, they are often as much about the unseen as the seen – at times held in secret, other times visible to the observer.

At the time this was constructed, jewelry was undergoing a transition. A move was from pieces which were decorated only with enamel without gemstones and diamonds, which were exceedingly scarce, to objects which were partially enameled with more jewels. By the first quarter of the 18th century most jewelry was gem-set and enamel not used at all or only relegated to the back of items.

Exceptionally rare, this high carat yellow gold (20k) cross pendant is masterfully crafted. Along both axes are eleven table cut green pastes set in a very specific rub over bezel where the gold is virtually smoothed over the edge of the pastes in the manner that butter might be spread. At each of the four terminals an ornamental element is accented with white, green and burnt sienna enamel.

The reverse reveals a glorious white enamel cross (most likely symbolic of the sacred and the pure) engineered with a hinge to lift upward to display the holy relic(s) within the small square compartments.

Date: Late 17th century.

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+ Measurements, Condition & More

Measurements: Pendant is 2-1/8 inches (5.5 cm) in length including bale by 1-3/8 inches (3.5 cm) in width. Weight of 14.7 grams (9.4 dwt) for pendant and chain.

Condition: Excellent for its age; minute amounts of enamel loss in various areas with a few hair line cracks and chips. Relic now deficient.

Origin: Possibly Spanish or Portuguese.

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