The Stavelot Reliquary in New York

The Stavelot Triptych is the earliest surviving triptych style reliquary of the True Cross with illustrations from the Legend of the True Cross and is unique in that it unites in a single work of art Eastern and Western (Byzantine and European) iconographic and craftsmanship traditions as they existed in the middle of the 12th century.

This priceless artefact is in New York on permanent display in the Morgan Museum in New York. John Pierpoint Morgan, who was an enlightened collector, purchased the Triptych in 1910 from prominent art dealers Durlacher Brothers. The Triptych spent about three years that British Museum and arrived in the New York sometime in 1914.

Before being sold by the Durlacher Brothers, the precious triptych was in a possession of the Waltz family who took care of it since about 1814. This date leads us back to the last Abbott of the Stavelot Abbey, Celestine Thys who, running from the persecutions of the French Revolution, carried the relic of the True Cross on his person and later entrusted it to the Waltz family.

This splendid twelfth-century object, crafted by metalsmiths associated with the Abbey of Stavelot in Belgium, is a truly outstanding example of medieval craftsmanship, incorporating painted enamel images and inscriptions, glass tesserae, gilded copper, silver, and precious stones all in an opulent setting. The relic of the True Cross is held in a smaller Byzantine triptych—decorated with cloisonné enamels and glass tesserae work—that is the focal point of the larger piece.

The triptych is crafted in a variety of materials and uses almost all known goldsmithing techniques. The structure uses wood, copper-gilt frames, silver pearls and columns with gilt-brass capitals and bases, vernis brun domes (for which Mosan art is famous), semi-precious stones, beautiful intaglio gems, beads, as well as Mosan and cloisonné enamels.

Stavelot Triptych has been restored restored and has returned to its usual display on the first-floor gallery of the Morgan Museum. The Triptych is displayed in a case and can be seen from all sides and from close proximity. According to my last visit to the Morgan Museum, the Relic of the True Cross that was originally brought from Constantinople by the illustrious Abbott Wibald around 1150 AD is still housed inside this amazing reliquary.

Photo Credit: Morgan Library (Photo 1 and 6); Graham S. Haber Photos 2, 4 , 5).

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