Lot 439: Byzantine Reliquary Pendant and Chain
December 6, 2016
London, United KingdomLive Auction
Description: 9th-10th century AD. A parcel-gilt silver discoid reliquary container with ribbed and beaded loop, beaded bands to each face, roundels to the edge and three lugs; to the obverse, facing bust of Christ with cross to the halo, holding a book in the left hand, to the reverse a cross potent on steps with pellets, '????' legend; silver chain with hook-and-eye closure. 46 grams, 31cm (12 1/4"). From an old German collection; acquired in Munich in the 1970s. Supplied with a positive X-Ray Fluorescence metal analysis certificate. The image of Christ Pantocrator, meaning Christ the Ruler of All, was one of the most popular in the Byzantine period and represents Christ as the Lord of Hosts and God Almighty. It is this depiction of Christ that is most commonly found in Orthodox church mosaics and paintings, specifically in the dome or apse. NIKH is the Greek for victory and being depicted with the cross possibly represents the conquest of death through the salvation of Christ. Reliquaries were popular from the early days of Christianity and continue to be so. By containing a tangible link with the divine, either through cloth or the bone of a saint, the owner of this pendant would have been in direct contact with God. In the account of the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp relics themselves were described as more valuable than precious stones and more to be esteemed than gold, and so it was only appropriate that they be enshrined in containers crafted of or covered with gold, silver, gems, and enamel. The high level of craftsmanship on this piece and the use of precious metals would indicate that it was owned by an elite member of society, possibly a priest or aristocrat.
Condition Report: Fine condition.