Anglo-Saxon, England, West Midlands, Wooden Casket; Scenes from the Life of Christ, c. 1050, The Cleveland Museum of Art, boxwood, copper-alloy, glass.
Our Wooden Casket: Scenes from the Life of Christ (1953.362), featured in the exhibit Treasures of Heaven this past winter, is finally reinstalled in our Medieval Luxury Arts Gallery. This little Anglo-Saxon reliquary from about 1050 had an adventurous life previous to curatorial capture in the last century. A Liverpool collector and specialist, Dr. Philip Nelson, purchased the bottom piece in 1921 from a private owner in Warrington, Cheshire, for £175. In 1936, the lid entered the Victoria & Albert Museum for an opinion. Found in a cottage in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, sometime in the 19th century, it was then owned by the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Hammersmith (London). Nelson, described as an antiquary of great erudition convinced them to sell it to him for a mere £120. The reunited pieces, missing one hinge and the lock, entered Dr. Nelson's collection of coins and Medieval objects. House-shaped and carved from a single piece of boxwood, it remains the only surviving wood-carving with such an elaborate iconographic program.
The great thing Nelson did was to lend it to the V&A where it remained on exhibit from 1937 until his death in 1953. He published an article on it in Archaeologia in 1936, which is something that Nelson was wont to do with new objects albeit sometimes "without saying anything about it." The reliquary sold to an American dealer, and thus to The Cleveland Museum of Art. Recent research has connected it to the design influence of the Hereford Gospels and Troper, where the figures are said to resemble one another stylistically. Take some time to look at this unique object -- this reader finds it wondrous and can't help but imagine the carver's hands working on his tiny casket .