Late Antique, Early Christian and Jewish gems: rock crystal pendants

A distinctive workshop, probably located in Syria, specialized in rock crystal gems engraved with episodes from the pictorial cycles of the life and miracles of Jesus. The large, oval gems, although engraved in a summary, linear style, were inlaid with gold foil, covered with another crystal and mounted in gold frames to be worn as pendants. Episodes from the life of Christ found on surviving examples comprise the Annunciation, Adoration, Baptism, Entry into Jerusalem, Crucifixion, Women at the Tomb, and Ascension. Miracle scenes include Changing the Water to Wine at Cana, the Healing of the Leper, the Healing of the Woman with the Issue of Blood, the Healing of the Blind Man, and the Raising of Lazarus. In addition, other rock crystals are engraved with images of Christ enthroned, angels, crosses, and saints. Several examples have been found in hoards which included Byzantine gold jewelry of late 6th or 7th century date. This short-lived workshop was among the last to produce gems before the iconoclastic movement of the 8th century finally put an end to the Graeco-Roman tradition of gem engraving.

Gem image

The Baptism. Jesus stands in the River Jordan and is baptized by John, while the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends.

New York, Metropolitan Museum, inv. 31.123. Rock crystal, 28 x 19 mm.

Gem image

Jesus heals the leper.

Private collection. Rock crystal, inlaid with gold foil and set in a gold pendant mount, 22 mm.