This is an exquisite miniature book/reliquary pendant, dating to the 16th - 17th century. The silver pendant is formed as a book, with two hinged plates that open. Each silver plate (x4) is hand painted with a sacred devotional image. The first image is of the Madonna and Child, this is a miniature version of the famous Cambrai Madonna (known as the or Notre-Dame de Grâce). The image is painted onto silver and gilded in gold leaf, it bears a sacred inscription in red lead identical to the original masterpiece. Interestingly the word 'miniature' comes from the Latin word 'miniare'. This means 'to colour with red lead', a practice that was used for the capital letters in manuscripts, the same pigments used on this miniature and indicative of its early date.
The final image is a representation of the Veil of Veronica, this was a very popular subject painted from the 15th - 16th century but after the Sack of Rome in 1527, some writers recorded that the veil had been destroyed. Many artists of the time created reproductions of the Veronica, again suggesting its survival, but in 1616, Pope Paul V prohibited the manufacture of further copies unless made by a canon of Saint Peter's Basilica. In 1629, Pope Urban VIII not only prohibited reproductions of the Veronica from being made but also ordered the destruction of all existing copies. His edict declared that anyone who had access to a copy must bring it to the Vatican, under penalty of excommunication. This gives us a good indication of the date for the reliquary, as I feel it can not post-date this period.
The quality of the painting fits with the 16th century, likely by an artist trained in miniature illumination where images of this size were used to decorate books of hours and girdle books. The medium being of silver would have first needed an undercoat which you can see traces of at the edges.
The pendant retains what appears to be its original chain,it is an early looking example (I have seen similar ones of a medieval date) from the 14th to the mid 17th century. It is 83cm (32.67") long by 4mm wide. The chain is intact and wearable.
This is a very rare and original object, painted by a miniature specialist at a time when religious art and illuminated books gave way to mass-produced printing, these artists turned to royal images for the courts of Henry VIII and Francis Ist. One such artist was Hans Holbein the Younger. The pendant formed as a book would have been specially designed and made by a silver/goldsmith.
OBJECT: Miniature devotional reliquary book
DATE: c. 1550 - 1650 A.D
SIZE: 39mm x 34mm x 9mm (chain 830mm x 4mm)
WEIGHT: 67.37 grams
PROVENANCE: Formerly in a Private Collection, Essex. U.K.
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