The Vatican Museums are home to a grandiose collection of decorative arts, comprised primarily -yet not exclusively -of objects attributable to the Liturgical scene. Together the pieces are representative of a chronology spanning from late antiquity to the modern age. A driving strength of this collection -formed largely by treasures acquired throughout antiquity by the Vatican Library -is that it represents a multiplicity of cultures and numerous geographical areas. The ten works in this group are all of equal valor but in need of care and conservation in varying degree. They may be considered an effective witness to the variety and richness of a patrimony that has gradually established itself within the walls of the Christian Museum. The group starts with two simple yet precious metal boxes, already part of the “Treasury” of relics from the Lateran Sancta Sanctorum (the Holy of Holies, which was the oratory connected to the ancient Papal palace, where the most important mementos of Medieval Christian history were cherished). These boxes safeguarded the bones of Saints John the Baptist and Jerome (inv. 61880) and the sandals traditionally attributed to those of Jesus Christ (inv. 61907).
These two items in particular have succumbed to deformations due to the secular liturgical exposition of their content. Subsequently, the small silver reliquary casket (inv. 61106) is a work originating from Venice sometime between the late 12th and early 13th century, while the small box for the holy oil is fashioned by Roman workmanship at the time of Nicolas (1447-1455).
The monstrance (inv. 61873) and the large cross (inv. 62911) were made in the Roman and Central (perhaps Abruzzo) regions of Italy, respectively, from the 17th century. The ﬁgure of Christ on the processional cross was probably added as a detail sometime during the 18th century. The three decorative book covers related to the Roman Missals (inv. Nos 62047, 62048, and 62051 are also “eloquent” themselves, in that each one speaks about a particular aesthetic sense prevalent during the respective years in which they were fabricated. Even in Italy, the ornate rococo style of French origin was popular and is encapsulated in each work. All three covers are richly decorated with etched and engraved silver, embossed, and delicately punctured. Each element and ornament is indicative of the territorial zone of France from whence the design received its original inspiration and expression. The sequence closes with a beautiful shrine to the Lamb of God (inv. 70057) with a low-relief proﬁle of Pope Innocent XI (Odescalchi, 1676-1689). The medallion is cast in bronze, embossed, and gilded, while the framing is uniquely etched and chiseled in silver, then further embossed and gilded. The work is attributable to the style of Milanese artist Giuseppe Vismara (1633-1703), one of the most renowned medalists and sculptors of his time. Thusly, this piece is a quintessential example of just how rich and ornate accessories such as this were created. It was designed for the purpose of conserving the stamps that would impress decorative designs in small, rounded wax medallions (approximately the size of a host) for private devotional purposes. One side would contain the emblematic image of the Eucharistic Lamb, the other with a saint or reigning Pontiff, accompanied by an identifying inscription. The Agnus Dei was a title already prevalently used in the Middle Ages. This symbolism found its place in the design of many metal molds, and eventually that of its wax counterparts.
1. Reliquary Box with framed masculine figure with spiral engravings on lid
DATE: end of 12th – beginning of 13th century
DIMENSIONS: 5.4 x 7.7 x 6 cm
MATERIALS: embossed silver, engraving, blackened
INVENTORY Nr: 61106
2. Rayed Monstrance on a circular base with baluster stem and frame with cherub faces
DIMENSIONS: h 40 cm
DATE 7th: century
MATERIALS: engraved silver, chiseled and embossed
INVENTORY Nr: 61873
3. Reliquary Depository with sliding lid, containing the bones of Saints John the Baptist and Jerome
DIMENSIONS: 28.2 x 22.1 x 4cm
DATE: 4th century ?
MATERIALS: tinned copper
INVENTORY Nr: 61880
4. Reliquary Box with sliding lid, containing the shoes of Jesus Christ
DIMENSIONS: 31 x 23.5 x 7.5 cm
DATE: 4th century ?
INVENTORY Nr: 61907
5. Decorative binding with coat of arms of Barnabò Marchesi of Foligno. Cover for the revised Roman Missal by decree of the most holy council of Trent.
ARTIST: Giovanni Girolamo Spezzani (1665-1748) and Bartolomeo Balbi (1678 – before 1742)
DIMENSIONS: 34.5 x 25.5 cm
DATE: 1729 (missal); 1731-1732 (binding)
MATERIALS: engraved and embossed silver, crimson velvet
INVENTORY Nr: 62047
6. Binding with phytomorphic decorations and plaque with ﬁgurative subjects. Cover for the Roman Missal by decree of the most holy council of Trent.
ARTIST: Francesco Lombardo (1645-1696)
DIMENSIONS: 34 x 25 cm
DATE: 1652 (binding); 1772 (missal)
MATERIALS: silver engraved, chiseled, embossed and ﬁlligree, crimson velvet
INVENTORY Nr: 62048
7. Binding with phytomorphic decorations and plaque with ﬁgurative subjects. Cover for the Roman Missal by decree of the most holy council of Trent.
DIMENSIONS: 33.5 x 26.5 cm
DATE: 1714 (missal); 1725 (binding)
MATERIALS: engraved silver, chiseled, embossed, and ﬁlligree
INVENTORY Nr: 62051
8. Case for holy oil with medallions depicting the insignia of Nicholas V (1447-1455) ARTIST: unknown DIMENSIONS 7x 17 x 7 cm
DATE: mid 15th century
MATERIALS: silver foil and ﬁnish (case); silver casting and welding (moldings); gold or silver gilding (internal display cases)
INVENTORY Nr: 62091
9. Processional Cross with lobed endings and cherub heads.
DIMENSIONS: 7x 17 x 7 cm
DATE: 1686 (cross); end of 18th century (cruciﬁx)
MATERIALS: silver plated and engraved, chiseled, gilded (cross); fused silver, partially embossed and gilded (cruciﬁx); bronze gilded (cherub heads)
INVENTORY Nr: 62911
10. Reliquary case for Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) with bust profile of Innocent XI of Odescalchi (1676-1689) inside an ornamentally framed medallion
DIMENSIONS: 42.5 x 31cm
DATE: late 17th century
MATERIALS: embossed gilt bronze (medallion); cast silver and chiseled silver foil, embossed and gilded (frame); cut crystal (case)
INVENTORY Nr: 70057.2.1-2