Chasse with the Crucifixion and Christ in Majesty, ca. 1180–90
Made in Limoges, France
Copper: engraved, chiseled, stippled, and gilt; champlevé enamel: dark, medium, and light blue; turquoise, dark and light green, yellow, red, and white; wood core, painted red on exterior; Overall 10 5/16 x 11 7/8 x 4 9/16 in. (26.2 x 30.2 x 11.6 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.514)
The rectangular, boxlike shape of the medieval chasse is an adaptation of the sarcophagus shape, ultimately deriving from the Early Christian tradition of honoring saints at their burial sites. The word chasse is derived from the Latin capsa (coffin), and it has come to refer to an enclosed shrine with a pyramid-shaped roof. Such reliquaries were often placed on altars, where the devout could venerate the relic held inside. In keeping with twelfth-century tradition, this chasse, which once served as a portable container for the relics of revered saints, is decorated with gables and finials to echo the shape of a church. In the view shown here, the Crucifixion is represented flanked by images of the sun and moon, with rows of the apostles standing beneath a series of arcades. The richness of the decoration is enhanced by the background scroll-like patterns called vermiculé. Their name literally adopted from a Latin term suggestive of worm shapes or movement, these twisting, incised lines provide a foil for the figures, whose massive feet and hands stand in stark contrast to their tiny copper-gilt heads. The reverse of the chasse has an overall pattern of quatrefoils enclosed in circles, a motif frequently found on vermiculé chasses.