Three Devotional Items in Gold and two terracotta oil lamps

The California Chapter

˜Inv 62113

1. Small Devotional Triptych Altar with Christ Crucified.
ARTIST: unknown
DIMENSIONS: 20 x 14.3 cm (total, with open base); 20 x 7.2 cm (total, with closed base); 11.3 x 7.5 cm (cross)
DATE: 1380-1400 ca.
MATERIALS: silver, partially gilded and enameled; bronze
INVENTORY Nr: 62113

Inv 62116
˜™2. Small Devotional Altar with Crucifix and table candlesticks.
ARTIST: unknown
DIMENSIONS: 16.3 x 8.5 x 4.3 cm
DATE: 7th century
MATERIALS: silver (statue figures) and chiseled silver sheeting, embossed and partially gilded (sculpted decorations); cast bronze and gilded copper foil (architectural structure), blue lapis lazuli and other precious stones (architectural decorations), oil painted on copper (painted panels)
INVENTORY Nr: 62116

3. Cross for a table on a molded architectural pedestal, with Christ Crucified and statues of the Virgin and Saint John at His side
ARTIST: unknown
DIMENSION: 25 x 11.5 x 4.5 cm (total); 15.7 x 10.7cm (cross only)
DATE first half of 7th century ?
MATERIALS: cast silver, incised, embossed and partially gilded (Crucifix and statues); carved and painted wood, inlayed with semiprecious stones (cross and pedestal)
INVENTORY Nr: 62137.2.1-2

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4.Two terracotta oil lamps
ARTIST: unknown
DIMENSIONS: 10-12 cm ca.
DATE: V century
MATERIALS: clay
INVENTORY Nr: 60947, 61520

The devotional objects in this group consist of very interesting examples of “altarpieces,” or miniaturized liturgical devotionals. They are quite detailed reproductions of the actual architectural types that would have been assembled with correspondent materials. These furnishings used for private devotion are projects of superior craftsmanship and were in circulation amongst those of high ecclesiastical and aristocratic rank, particularly widespread in the 16th and 17th centuries. They later became prized among avid collectors. The devotional altar (Inv. 62113) has embossed images of Christ on the cross between Mary and Saint John; its base is a triptych of the Nativity between Saints Peter and Paul on the inner side, and the Annunciation appears on the exterior side. The work represents a scaled-down model of a monumental complex of a late-Gothic form. It is most likely attributable to the artistic workshop of Emiliano from the late 14th century. Pope Pius IX donated the piece at some point during his pontificate (1846-1878), until it was later moved to the Vatican Library.

The other altarpiece (Inv. 62116) with a crucifix and table candlesticks has a painted panel dedicated to the Nativity, another to the Last Supper, and is topped by a statue of the Blessing Christ. Once again we see it as a key decorative element of the counter -reformation and, as it would have been part of a 16th century chapel, it is a wonderful example of the Baroque liturgical schema. It was donated in 1929 to Pope Pius XI by Emanuele Filiberto of Savoia, the 2nd duke of d’Aosta, and eventually acquired by the Vatican collections in 1936. The other altarpiece (Inv. 62116) with a crucifix and table candlesticks has a painted panel dedicated to the Nativity, another to the Last Supper, and is topped by a statue of the blessing Christ. Executed in Italy, most probably Roman in origin, it was created in the middle of the 17th century. Its sundry polymateric decorative facets in relation to its reduced size together demonstrate the astounding degree of competence in its workmanship. This was indicative of the type of labor set forth in Latin Christendom by silversmiths, engravers, and those who inlayed gemstones. The crucifix was donated to Pope Pius XI in 1937 for the Sacristy collection of the Sistine Chapel at the time.

Terracotta oil lamps like these were used in early centuries for an everyday light source, especially in the Jewish religion. In ancient Rome, they also served other purposes. During festivities and religious processions, for example, they were used as votive offerings to their pagan gods, or in funeral rituals to honor the deceased. It was also thought that putting these lamps within the tomb of the deceased would make them comfortable in the after life. After Christianity grew widespread, these lanterns that still retained symbolic of light and hope, grew in their spiritual significance. Christ was the true “Light” himself and toward Whom each faithful oriented their life. In turn, the lamp became significant of an eschatological light that would never extinguish. Christian decorations were carved on the surface of the lamps in the hope of spreading the word of God. Images included fish, doves, Chi Rho, and biblical representations. Centuries later, lanterns started to become popular in African cultures. This “classic African” lantern started its production during the 5th century AD and was exported through Tunisia, becoming widespread throughout the Mediterranean. The first of the two terracotta lamps depicted here (inv. 60947) comes from the African Terra Sigillata. It is decorated with a palm tree and has two symmetric bands containing geometric elements on the back. The second lantern (inv. 61520) was found in Rome in the cemetery of Saints Marco and Marcellino. It has animal and geometric designs in its decoration. Both are part of a larger collection on display in the Christian Museum.

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