This is a wonderful object for “crystal gazing.”  This large piece of rock crystal is very clear and therefore of exceptional quality for its era. The substantial gem, which  is an extremely valuable and powerful substance , here seems to proclaim itself as a material presence even more than a means of protection for the contents of the tiny cylinder at its core. One was to experience the crystal as crystal.

At that center is a void, a cylinder drilled out of the gem. Dropped into this space is a tiny gilded column with a few apertures marked out with ogee arches. What was originally in these spaces is unclear from visual inspection—were there relics? Paintings? The later history of this piece and its wear have frustrated its very purpose—to display its sacred contents.  The top and bottom of this reliquary further contribute to the mystery. Here we find a floriated incised decoration and, inside an outer frame, a series of letters, probably the owner’s initials but thus far unidentified (F B/G Lo and M G/F C).


Collection of Thomas F. Flannery Jr. (1926-1980), a Chicago neon-sign producer and a collector of medieval and later works of art; his sale, London, Sotheby’s, 1 December 1983, lot 276.

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