Hanging Reliquary

German (Meuse)
third quarter of 12th century
Maker Unidentified


16.9 x 10.6 x 3.7 cm (6 5/8 x 4 3/16 x 1 7/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Vernis brun and gilding on copper over wooden core; cabochons and rock crystal

On View

I. W. Colburn Chapel Gallery (Gallery 254A)





Mandorla-shaped reliquary with an attachment loop at the top. Radiographs (fig. 16, Swarzenski and Netzer 1986) show a wooden core in one piece to which copper plaques, overlapping at their edges, have been attached with small nails. On the front side, the outer border formed by two plaques is “vernis brun” with a simple dot design. The sides of the raised central area are covered with gilded copper stamped with a repeated curled leaf; the gilded copper over the flat area is stamped with a foliate scroll. In the center is lozenge-shaped plaque with a large oval rock crystal and deep-blue cabochons in the corners. Radiographs reveal under the crystal a square foil or cloth lining the cavity in which the relic, a small bone, is placed. A copper sheet stamped with a continuous vine scroll covers each side. Attached to the back is a single “vernis brun” plaque with a gold vine scroll around the border. More elaborate but similar to that on the stamped sides, the vine scroll begins from a split branch at the bottom and continues up each side to the top, where the scrolls are linked with a simple band. In the center, the same scroll and elongated palmettes are arranged symmetrically around a central rosette. The attachment loop projects from a triangular plaque nailed to the core.

A unique form of the magical jewel is the reliquary pendant, which typically contains potent substances such as sacred texts, the cremated ashes of a religious leader, or a bone fragment or piece of clothing belonging to a saint. The form can be a simple container or an elaborate jewel. In one medieval mandorla-shaped reliquary pendant, a crystal oval is set within a square embellished by four cabochon sapphires, with the mandorla motif repeating harmoniously to the outer edge. Under the crystal lies a foil or cloth lining for the relic, in this case a bone fragment (fig. 7).
Yvonne J. Markowitz, “Hanging Reliquary” in Artful Adornments: Jewelry from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston by Yvonne J. Markowitz (Boston: MFA Publications, 2011), 21.


A public sale at Croissy, France. 1927, A. Gilbert collection; November 29 - December 1, 1927, posthumous Gilbert sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, lot 28. 1931, Alfred Rütschi, Zürich; September 5, 1931, Rütschi sale, Galerie Fischer, Lucerne, lot 44, possibly to Theodor Fischer, Lucerne (?) [see note 1]; August 31, 1938, sold by Fischer to the Brummer Gallery, New York (stock no. P15066); May 12, 1949, Brummer sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, lot 369, to the MFA for $350. (Accession Date: May 12, 1949)

[1] This is conjectural, based upon the fact that the object was auctioned at the Galerie Fischer, and sold seven years later by Fischer to Brummer.

Credit Line

William Francis Warden Fund