This exquisite cross pendant attests to the Byzantine interest in intricate religious works made for personal adornment. Its high level of workmanship and use of luxurious materials signal the influence of a wealthy and high-ranking patron; such crosses were often worn by the clergy or the upper echelons of Byzantine society as outward symbols of their status and piety. The work dates to the period during which the Byzantine jeweller’s craft reached its pinnacle, the Middle Byzantine period, which spanned the late ninth to the thirteenth century AD.
The delicate chain is of the ‘loop-in-loop’ type, formed from tubular wire gold. The intricate terminals of the chain match the suspension loop of the pendant, and consist of a rectangular sheet of wire, to which are soldered S-scroll filigree and twisted wire borders. The pendant itself displays exceptional mastery of the openwork filigree in a box-like construction, which allows for the interplay of light, shadow, and patterns on either side of the cross. The centre of the cross is set with a garnet cabochon, one of the most popular precious stones used to adorn ornaments in this period, which sets off the composition.
This openwork filigree technique together with the box-like construction are characteristics of a jewellery style known from the medieval Islamic world of the eleventh to twelfth centuries AD. However, what is especially intriguing is that this pendant falls among a small number of rare Christian cross pendants in this style, attesting to the presence of Christians in the Near East during this period. It is also likely that some of the goldsmiths were Greek, working for both Muslim and Christian clients. A particularly elaborate parallel, set with pearls, is displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. 2005.38, circa 1200-1400 AD).
Private Collection, North Germay, 1990s.
Art Market, New York.
Exhibited: Paris, Biennale des Antiquaires , 13-29 September, 1996.
Exhibition listing, no. 257