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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.

Although small, this plaque probably once ornamented a great reliquary shrine of a type for which Cologne, Germany, is well known. Nail holes in the sides show where the plaque would have been attached to a larger object, and an inscribed number “VI” on the reverse is likely a marker for its placement on the object or shrine. Unlike most enamels, this plaque combines two techniques: champlevé, in which the cells for the enamel are carved out of the copper plate, as is apparent in the turquoise border of the plaque and in the large blue and gold sections, and cloisonné, where the cells for the enamel are constructed with small wires soldered to the copper surface, as seen in the small white flowers. Enamels made in Cologne were much admired for the combination of these two techniques.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Unidentified Artist
Ornamental Plaque
Work Type
early 13th century
Creation Place: Europe, Germany, Upper Rhine
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2440, Medieval Art
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Physical Descriptions

Champlevé and cloisonné enamel
8.7 x 4.1 cm (3 7/16 x 1 5/8 in.)

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Museum Association Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Exhibition History

  • Medieval Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Jewett Arts Center, Wellesley, 11/21/1970 - 02/07/1971
  • German Sculpture, 1500 - 1960: A New Installation, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, 09/05/1984 - 12/31/1984
  • German Sculpture from the Permanent Collection, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, 01/21/1986 - 03/10/1986
  • 32Q: 2440 Medieval, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Verification Level

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at