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Gallery Text

Some of the most precious and finely wrought objects of the Middle Ages were made for use in the liturgical service of the church. Crosses and censers were carried in procession, while reliquaries, caskets, and shrines held the remains of saints or objects associated with them. Because of the sacred function of these objects, they were made of the most valuable materials available: ivory, bronze, enamel, rock crystal, and gold. Through their hallowed contents or their liturgical function, these objects provided access to the divine, yet they were also displays of wealth and craftsmanship. Censers and vessels were cast in bronze, while other objects, such as caskets and reliquaries, were assembled from a wooden core and covered with ivory, enamel, and gilded metal. Often, if such costly materials were out of reach, wood or other modest materials were painted and gilded to resemble them.

The distinctive five-lobed handle and ornamental latch of this box, made of ivory plaques set around a wooden core, are typical of a group of objects made in Sicily in the twelfth century, when the island was under Norman Christian rule. Prior to the first Norman invasion, in 1060, Sicily had been under the rule of the Muslim Fatimids, and Fatimid culture continued to have a presence there well into the twelfth century. Objects in the Middle Ages frequently circulated across cultures: this casket seems to have been imported in the twelfth century to Germany, where its perceived exoticism and precious materials made it desirable for use as a reliquary, despite its probable origin as a jewelry casket or wedding box. The box eventually became part of what is known as the Guelph Treasure, a hoard of objects housed for over nine hundred years in the Cathedral of Saint Blaise, in Brunswick, Germany.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
1931.52
People
Unidentified Artist
Title
Tower Shaped Casket
Classification
Boxes
Work Type
box
Date
12th century
Culture
Italian
Location
Level 2, Room 2440, Medieval Art, Medieval Art
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Physical Descriptions
Medium
Ivory plaques mounted on oak, with gilt bronze fittings
Dimensions
28 x 22.5 x 22.5 cm (11 x 8 7/8 x 8 7/8 in.)
height with handle: 29.5 cm (11 5/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • label: bottom, graphite, handwritten: 12
Provenance
Duke of Brunswick,by descent through family. [Goldschmidt Galleries], sold; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1930.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Alpheus Hyatt Purchasing Fund
Accession Year
1931
Object Number
1931.52
Division
European and American Art
Contact
am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
Four iron feet, each different from the other. One is a bolt which penetrates through to the interior of the casket. Nails project inside the lid from the top of the lockplate. Two hinges. Brass handle with five lobes. Spots of wax? inside lid of box.
Publication History

Wilhelm Anton Neumann, Der Reliquienschatz des Hauses Braundschweig-Lüneburg, Alfred Hölder (Vienna, Austria, 1891), no. 33, pp. 218-224, repr.

"Fogg Museum Acquires Ivory Casket of the Guelph Treasure", Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, MA, December 20 1930)

"Fogg Museum Gets a Guelph Casket", The New York Times (New York, NY, December 13, 1930), p. 4

Otto von Falke and Robert Schmidt, Der Welfenschatz: Der Reliquienschatz des Braunschweiger Domes aus dem Besitze des herzoglichen Hauses Braunschweig-Lüneburg, Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt (Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1930), no. 12, pl. 21, p. 114

"The Guelph Treasure", Fogg Art Museum Notes (Cambridge, MA, June 1931), vol. 2, no. 6, pp. 333-337, p. 337; repr. p. 334

The Guelph Treasure, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago IL, 1931), no. 12

Perry Blythe Cott, "Siculo-Arabic Ivories" (1939), Princeton University, no. 100, p. 45

Exhibition of Ecclesiastical Art, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Springfield, MA, 1941), no. 36.41.18

Eucharistic Vessels of the Middle Ages, exh. cat., Busch-Reisinger Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1975), no. 7, pp. 71-72; repr. p. 122

Patrick de Winter, "The Sacral Treasures of the Guelphs", The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art (March 1985), vol. 72, no. 1, p. 59; repr. p. 58 as fig. 64

Patrick de Winter, The Sacral Treasure of the Guelphs, Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, OH, 1985), p. 59; repr. p. 58 as fig. 64

Elizabeth Bradford Smith, Medieval Art in America: Patterns of Collecting 1800-1940, exh. cat., Palmer Museum of Art (University Park, PA, 1996), p. 179

Exhibition History

The Guelph Treasure, Goldschmidt Galleries, 11/30/1930 - 12/20/1930; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 01/10/1931 - 02/01/1931; The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 03/31/1931 - 04/02/1931

Exhibition of Ecclesiastical Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Springfield, 11/07/1941 - 12/14/1941

Islamic Art From the Collections of the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 08/01/1974

Eucharistic Vessels of the Middle Ages, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, 03/14/1975 - 04/26/1975

32Q: 2440 Medieval, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu