Medieval silver and niello reliquary of Saint Francis of Assissi

Medieval silver and niello reliquary of Saint Francis of Assissi

Code: 11148


This is an original and extremely rare reliquary pendant, dating to the 14th century. The jewel is set with a natural hexagonal rock crystal, inside containing a secondary capsule (with the cover decorated with niello). Inside the frame are traces of very old cloth and or vellum, it appears to have been opened during the 17th century with a later inscribed parchment added (possibly recording the inscriptions on the much earlier vellum?) The cover on the front of the reliquary depicts a kneeling king before a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child. The back of the reliquary is profusely decorated with a scene of Saint Francis of Assissi seated within a forest or woodland. He is flanked by a white hart (stag) and a hunting dog (Talbot). With one hand he holds a skull (symbolic of wisdom) the other hand gestures towards heaven. In my opinion, the artist has likely been inspired with the French gold Ecu, this coin depicts the King seated on a gothic throne, similar to this example including the lower arches. The Ecu of this design was in use from the 1330's to 1360's and contemporary with this jewel. Clearly it is an original and very early piece, with the crystal in perfect condition, though it has a few cracks on the silver where someone in the past has tried to open it.  This is a very rare item that may still contain a relic or St. Francis of Assissi, the jewel having been made within 100 - 120 years after his death. This is not a ground found item, it has likely lived in a private collection or ecclesiatical treasurey for some considerable time. The niello is intact and the crystal - only the contents seem to have perished or are fragmented. 

OBJECT: Reliquary Pendant

CULTURE: Medieval

DATE: c. 14th century A.D.

MATERIAL: Silver, Rock Crystal, and Niello

SIZE: 46.65mm (with hoop) 38.58mm (without) x 34.62mm x 7.93mm

WEIGHT:  19.84 grams

PROVENANCE:  Formerly in a European Private Collection, France.