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Work Cross of Abbot Hugo from Saint-Vincent de Laon

Department of Decorative Arts: Middle Ages

Cross with double cross-bar with the name of Abbé Hugo (1174-1205)

© 1993 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts
Middle Ages

Barbier Muriel

The cross of Saint-Vincent de Laon bears an inscription showing that it was made for Abbot Hugo (1174-1205) who directed the reconstruction of the abbey church in Laon. It is the oldest extant example of the many reliquary crosses of the True Cross that had fleurons and filigree ornamentation on the arms. The enamel is typical of Mosan art but the statuettes are in the style of 1200.

Twelfth-century enamel work

The cross stands on a circular base decorated with vine leaves and supported by three small lion's feet. On the vine leaves there are three enamel medallions interspersed by filigree rosettes set with five precious stones. The medallions in champlevé enamel represent Abraham's sacrifice, Joseph sold by his brothers, and the vision of the burning bush. These three medallions may have come from a larger piece of work as the quality of the color range and the handling of the figures link them to Mosan enamels.

A typical example of the 1200 style

The cross itself, with its double crossbar and ends decorated with fleurons, is completely covered on both sides with filigree and cabochons that are typical of early 13th century goldsmith's work. Two branches sprouting from the foot of the cross hold a statuette of St. John and a statuette of the Virgin Mary, handled in a very gentle manner. The same gentleness is found in the flowing lines of Christ's loincloth. In the natural treatment of the human figure and the supple folds of the drapery, the cross of Saint-Vincent de Laon exemplifies the new stylistic trends that appeared in the closing years of the 12th century.

A double-barred reliquary cross

The double-barred cross is of Eastern origin and was widely used for reliquaries of the True Cross in the late twelfth century. This type of cross developed during the twelfth century especially after the capture of Constantinople in 1204, when relics poured back into the West. The sacking of Constantinople during the fourth crusade enabled the Crusaders to seize the treasures of the Byzantine Empire, especially the relics of the True Cross. The cross of Abbot Hugo is the oldest surviving example of these many reliquary crosses containing fragments of the True Cross; they are double barred crosses, with the ends decorated with fleurons or fleur-de-lis, and were made in the West following a Byzantine pattern during the thirteenth century.

Technical description

  • Northern France (c. 1200)

    Cross with double cross-bar with the name of Abbé Hugo (1174-1205)

    Provenance: Saint-Vincent de Laon

  • Enamels: Mosan region, c. 1160-80
    Gilded silver; champlevé enamels on copper

    H. 47 cm; W. 12.70 cm; D. 1.50 cm; Diam. 15.10 cm

  • Acquired in 1855 , 1855

    OA 4

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Room 502
    Display case 19

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Additional information about the work