17th century Roman Altar Cross from the estate of a Belgian Princess

Image of 17th century Roman Altar Cross from the estate of a Belgian Princess
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A 17th century Altar Cross, derivative of the school of Guglielmo della Porta in Rome.

Approximate size: 25.75 x 11.5 x 4.75 in.

The present altar cross, once intended for private devotion within a home or small chapel, consists of three free-standing gilt bronzes in the round, depicting the crucified Christ, John and Mary with hollow-backed silver cast appliques of Christ at the column and a weeping Magdalene. Skilled craftsmanship is evinced in the finely cast bronzes and silver pieces which feature elaborately punched scroll-work and stippled treatments to add texture to the clothing.

The effigy of Christ reproduces a model by the Roman goldsmith and sculptor, Guglielmo della Porta. This model of Christ was widely popular, with examples reproduced variably by Guglielmo’s workshop assistants and copied later by descendants from his school and style.

The overall altar cross exemplifies Guglielmo’s influence with its use of pious figures in fine metal, posed in the figurative expressions typical of late 16th century Rome. Guglielmo’s import of some of the finest South German craftsman are again exemplified by the feature of an ebonized wood fixture for the cross.

In particular, the present altar cross recalls some of the character of the Reliquary Cross of the Medici Chapel at the Tesoro dei Medici or his assistant, Jacopo Cornelis Cobaert’s extravagant altar cross now found at the Palazzo Venezia. The general form and flanking bases beset with spiraling openwork silver appliques also recall a home altar at the Convent of St. Catherine in the Netherlands.

The masks featured along the upper base are from the same mold used for a pair of gilt silver masks featured on a late 16th century small Italian altar at the Kunsthistorisches in Vienna, Austria (Inv. Schatzkammer, GS D 176).

Condition: Some losses to the beaded borders running along the left and right edges of the tiers. A group of silver appliques forming the arch above Christ tied to the column, lost. Crown of thorns lost. A slight crack running down the length of the cross, repaired. An early wood reinforcement added to securely mount the weeping Magdalene and her base to the foot of the cross. Some sinking of the upper base due to shrinking of wood over time. Rear supports to the base of the cross along the reverse added and overall ebonized wood restorations made recently. Central silver applique of a winged putto probably an early 18th century addition, perhaps replacing a cartouche once bearing the emblem of a noble family. Overall in a condition commensurate with age.

From the estate of Princess Lilian of Belgium (1916-2002).