Eastern Mediterranean; perhaps Egypt
Overall: 3 1/4 x 2 1/4 x 1/6 in. (8.3 x 5.6 x 0.2 cm)
The greatest diameter of the suspension ring: 9/16 in. (1.5 cm)
Weight: 1.4 oz. (38.8 g)
Bequest of David P. Harris ('46), 2020
Purchased by David P. Harris from the Falcon Gallery in London on May 10, 1972.
This bronze pendant cross appears dark gray, almost black to the human eye and features a suspension ring attached to the top arm. Both the front and back of the cross feature concentric circles, a repeated motif of a dot enclosed by a circle. In each concentric circle, there is a tannish-brown substance that resembles dirt, suggesting the cross was buried prior to discovery. There is also a broken concentric ring on the bottom limb which suggests damage to the cross before it was discovered.
A similar cross with concentric circle designs, now at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (no. 66.78.3), provides us with a date and suggested geography for our cross and helps us imagine how it would have appeared with its necklace. Both our cross and the VMFA cross were made using the bronze-molding technique. This process consisted of two halves of a stone mold that were held together by pins. The molten metal was poured through a funnel in the top opening of the mold. Once cooled, the two halves of the mold could be pulled apart to release the bronze-molded object inside.
In Christianity, the cross is the preeminent sign of Christ’s victory over death. Wearers of such crosses in Byzantium believed the presence of concentric circles gave the cross additional power to ward off any evil that may cause harm to them. Furthermore, on the front of the cross, the center and each arm contains a dime-sized concentric circle that was engraved to fit a missing stone or gem. Such gems were believed to possess medicinal, apotropaic, and other extraordinary properties that could be used to heal, or ward off, physical and spiritual sickness. The wearer would therefore hang the cross over their breast for the protection and safeguarding of their lives and salvation of their soul.
Bronze crosses exist in large numbers and seem to have been made in mass quantities due to the simple molding process. While these crosses would have been less expensive and affordable to a wider population, the elite would wear crosses made of gold, such as one now at the Met (no. 17.190.1650). Despite being made of different materials, the Met cross and our cross would have served the same purpose of protecting the wearer.
John A. Cotsonis, Byzantine Figural Processional Crosses (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1994).
Ivan Drpić, “The Enkolpion: Object, Agency, Self,” Gesta 57 (2018): 197–224.
Helen C. Evans, and William D. Wixom, eds., The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997).
Anna Kartsonis, “Protection against All Evil: Function, Use and Operation of Byzantine Historiated Phylacteries,” Byzantinische Forschungen 20 (1994): 73-102.
Eunice Dauterman Maguire, Henry Maguire, and Maggie J. Duncan-Flowers, “Introduction: Designs in Context,” in Art and Holy Powers in the Early Christian House (Urbana: Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1989), 1–33.
James Whitley, “Agency in Greek Art,” in A Companion to Greek Art, eds Tyler Jo Smith and Dimitris Plantzos (Malden, MA: Wiley, 2013), 579–595.
Sam Bouchard ('24) and Cole Kirol ('24) for ARHS 110 Introduction to Western Art (Spring 2021).
Purchase Receipt and Supporting Documents
2020.136-back.JPG (3249 kB)
2020.136-scale.JPG (4266 kB)
2020.136 - hanging 2.jpeg (1212 kB)
2020.136 - hanging.jpeg (522 kB)
2020.136 - oblique.jpeg (1300 kB)
2020.136 - side.jpeg (1681 kB)