16 Aug 2007

800 Year Old Cross Found In Trash

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Hermann Mayrhofer, curator of the Leogang Museum, with cross


A valuable cross dating to the Middle Ages has turned up in a trash bin in Austria.

Police in Salzburg say a woman looking for old crockery in a trash container in the western Austrian town of Zell am See stumbled upon the precious piece in 2004.

They say she apparently she had no idea of it’s value and just stashed it behind her couch.

Now experts say the cross could be worth as much as $575,000. …

The Austria Press Agency quoted police official Christian Krieg as saying the woman found the cross after a hotel owner who lived in Zell am See died and his home was being cleared by relatives.

The woman showed the cross to the niece of the dead man, but the niece didn’t want it and allowed the woman to take it, the news agency reported.

Last month, one of the woman’s neighbours had an inkling the cross might be something special and took it to a local museum in the village of Leogang.

The curator, Hermann Mayrhofer, alerted police. An investigation disclosed that, until the Second World War, the cross had been part of an art collection belonging to Izabella Elzbieta of Czartoryski Dzialinska, Poland.

Before the outbreak of war, Elzbieta tried to hide the piece from the Nazis by concealing it in the cellar of a building in Warsaw. But the Nazis found it in 1941 and later brought it, along with other items from Elzbieta’s collection, to a castle in Austria. It is unclear what happened next.

This summer, the cross was taken to Vienna for analysis but it has now been returned to the museum in Leogang. Experts at Vienna’s fine arts museum determined that it comes from Limoges, France, and dates to about 1200.

2 Feedbacks on "800 Year Old Cross Found In Trash"

Dominique R. Poirier

Though small and reframed the picture on your comment is large enough to allow me to recognize the typical style of enamel cloisonné you can find around the city of Limoges and in the whole region of the French Lemosin. Specialists and experts name this particular genre kind of enamel “email champlevé” (enamel champlevé). It is different of the more popularly known Chinese enamel cloisonné because it was made on thick copper plates on which geometric shapes and sketches were cut out of the metal before the resulting cavities were filed with enamel powder of different colors. Then the whole thing was baked until the enamel vitrified. Then, some pouncing work leveled enamel and its copper borders as an even surface. The thin copper borders were gold platted, eventually.

Most, if not all pieces of enamel cloisonné made in this region were of religious nature and featured the life of Christian Saints surrounded by geometrical repetitive or plant patterns. This form of art reached its maturity during the XIIth century. That’s why the age suggested for this Christian cross seems to be a relatively correct guess given its style and quality.

It is believed that the French dynasty of the Plantagenet kings, and more particularly Richard Ist (aka “the Lionheart”) contributed to the development and export of the enamel cloisonné to Britain. For the record Richard the Lionheart was born on September 8, 1157 at Beaumont Palace, Oxford, England, and died on 6 April 6, 1199 at Châlus in Lemosin, near Limoges, France. He was King of England from 6 July 1189 to 6 April 1199. Richard spent more years of his reign away from his kingdom, since the greater part of his domain was in France, and he was especially attached to the region of Limoges.

To my knowledge, the oldest piece of enamel cloisonné ever found in the region of Lemosin, a medallion of much simpler and even primitive style, has been dated circa the year 1000 (Roman period). It was unearthed from an archeological site at Saint-Gence in Lemosin, France, in 1999.

An exceptional collection of artifacts of outstanding quality is displayed at the museum of Gueret, in the Creuse district.
I went to see this collection twice in my life and, from recollection; the best pieces are ornamental plates and Christian reliquaries. The blue color you can see on this cross is typical and omnipresent on all pieces made in this region.

This cross may come from France as it may come from England since we know that Richard the Lionheart would have been instrumental in the export of enamel cloisonné of Limoges to Britain during the XIIth century, that is to say 900 years ago.

Having personally seen many pieces of enamel cloisonné of Limoges, I can testify that this cross is an exceptionally large sized object of good quality and in very good condition, not to say exceptional. Since pieces of enamel closisoné of Limoges backing to this period are very, very, very rare I believe that the value of this piece is much in excess of $575,000 which, I find, is a ridicule price given the trends of the market.

Eva Grygiel

It should go back to the Czartoryski’s family or to Polish museum.


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