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LOT 0197

GBP (£) 8,000 - 10,000
EUR (€) 8,830 - 11,040
USD ($) 9,770 - 12,210

Bid History: 1   |   Current bid: £7,200
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Byzantine Justinian the Great Marble Reliquary Casket

6th century AD

A marble sarcophagus-shaped casket from the period of Justinian the Great, rectangular in plan with pitched-roof lid; the contoured body with rosette within a wreath to each short side, expanding-arm cross within a wreath to one long side and to the other long side a D-shaped trough with arcaded outer face flanked by opposed peacocks and with a scallop above forming a spout; the plain interior with corresponding outlet hole; the lid with scrolled up stand to each corner, expanding-arm cross to each short side, similar motif in a wreath to one long side and to the other the image of the Divine Lamb (Agnus Dei) within a wreath; apex of the roof flat with central hole to accept strongly scented offerings of oils which was the method of interaction with the precious relic; the holes inside the wreaths were originally inset with precious stones. 16.3 kg, 30cm (12"). Very fine condition, minor wear. Extremely rare.

Property of a central London gentleman; previously with a London, Mayfair, gallery in the early 1990s, accompanied by an academic report by specialist Dr Raffaele D'Amato and a geologic report No. TL005222, by geologic consultant Dr R. L. Bonewitz.

See Grabar, A. L'età d'oro di Giustiniano, Milano, 1966; Hahn C. (ed.), Objects of devotion and desire, medieval relic to contemporary art, Januar 27-April 30, 2011, catalogue of the exhibition at the he Bertha and Karl Lebsdorf Art Gallery, Hunter College, New York, 2011; Various, Byzanz Pracht und Alltag, Kunst und Austellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn 26.Februar bis 13.Juni 2010, Mainz; and cf. The Metropolitan Museum, accession number 1978.273a,b and 49.69.2a,b for similar shaped caskets with offering apertures to the top. Such object of devotions began to be common from 4th century AD, when the Roman Empire slowly underwent its transformation in a Christian empire, beginning with the Edict of Tolerance towards all the Religions (included the Christian one) of Constantine and Licinius in 313 AD and ending with the proclamation of the Christianity as official religion of the Roman State, with Theodosius, in 380 AD. Since then the Roman Empire was a Christian one, with its eastern capital, Constantinople (the city of Constantine) or Nea Romi (New Rome) born a Christian city, and remaining such until its fall to the Turks in 1453 AD, except for the short period of Julian II (361-363 AD). Many simpler similar reliquaries are preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, generically dated to a period between 400-600 AD. A similar reliquary, although less decorated, is preserved at the Israel Museum. Our reliquary can be dated with a major precision. It shows decorations and characters typical of the Age of Justinian the Great (527-565 AD). The exquisite facture of the work points to Asiatic workshops of the Empire, in particular Ephesus or the same Chief City, Byzantium. The style of the crosses is the same of the cross held by the victorious Christ in the so-called Barberini ivory, today preserved at the Louvre Museum (Grabar, 1966, p.279, fig.319), with all probability realised at Constantinople in the first half of 6th century AD. The holes in the wreaths were inserted with precious stones, like those of the wreath the Diptych of Saint Lupicin in Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris, also an artwork realised in Constantinople in 6th century. Two similar reliquaries, today in the Römisch-Germanisches Museum of Köln (Byzanz, 2010, pp.230-231), dated at the 6th century, were instead realized in Syria, one of the richest provinces of the Empire before of its lost to the Arabs after the battle of Yarmouk in 636 AD.

This casket is in excellent condition and the refinement of execution is very rare. In many churches, the sacred relics were the focus of the liturgical rites and cultic processions. The relics were bones, bits of clothing, or fragments of objects that had belonged to a saint or holy person, which were kept in special boxes called reliquaries. In Khirbet Beth Sila, north of Jerusalem, a small reliquary was found containing a long strand of hair. The gabled stone sarcophagi used for Christian burial were the model for miniature copies, like the one seen here, that were manufactured throughout the Roman Empire as containers for relics or objects made holy by physical contact with them. Beginning in the fourth century, the bodies of martyrs and saints were exhumed, divided, and moved to local churches, where they were placed in reliquaries that were enclosed within altars or buried under them or displayed in chapels dedicated to the Saint. The reliquaries were placed beneath the main altar, within a depression in the floor, and sometimes also kept in the rooms alongside the apse or in the side apses, called for this reason martyria. The reliquaries served to the Pilgrims and devotes for the collecting of the holy Oil, the Myron. They were sealed, probably with lead, and the only way to interact with the precious relic kept inside was the opening at the top of the reliquary, where strongly scented offerings of oil could be poured inside the small sarcophagus. Once the oil had been poured through the upper aperture it passed over the enclosed relic and would have been collected in pilgrim flasks from the source on the side, thus creating holy oil. This is the reason why some of the reliquaries, like our specimen, have an additional hole in one of the sides, to make it easier to remove the sanctified oil. These holes were sometimes, like here, equipped with spouts, usually made of metal. The devoted honoured the reliquary with the most precious oil in the hope they would be rewarded with protection and healing. Alternatively, the holes in the lid of such sarcophagi-shaped reliquary, as seen in our specimen, allowed the faithful to insert cloth attached to narrow rods into the reliquary in order to absorb the power of the relic through contact.

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Bid History: 1   |   Current bid: £7,200

Lot No. 0197

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Auction Venue:
The May Fair Hotel London
Stratton Street
Mayfair London, W1J 8LT

Viewing from noon Monday 2nd September 2019
Champagne Reception: 6pm - 9pm

(Lots 1-660)

Auction Venue:
The Court House
363 Main Road
Harwich, CO12 4DN

Auctions start 10am BST (Lunch 1.30 - 2pm)

Wednesday 4th September 2019 (Day 2)
Lots 700 – 1299 (Antiquities)
Thursday 5th September 2019 (Day 3)
Lots 1300 – 1889 (Antiquities)
Friday 6th September 2019 (Day 4)
Lots 1900 – 2499 (Antiquities)
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Lots 2500 – 3099 (Antiquities)
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