Byzantine-Style Mosaic Necklace with Christ and Twelve Apostles

Copied Unidentified (Murano, Venice, Italy), Byzantine-Style Mosaic Necklace with Christ and Twelve Apostles, 1870s-1910s, gold with glass and shell inlay, 9 14 × 16 × 14 in. (23.5 × 40.6 × 0.6 cm) irregular, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John Gellatly, 1929.8.247
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Artwork Details

Byzantine-Style Mosaic Necklace with Christ and Twelve Apostles
Unidentified (Murano, Venice, Italy)
Not on view
9 14 × 16 × 14 in. (23.5 × 40.6 × 0.6 cm) irregular
Credit Line
Gift of John Gellatly
Mediums Description
gold with glass and shell inlay
  • Religion — New Testament — Christ
  • Religion — New Testament — apostle
Object Number

Artwork Description

The age and origin of this necklace are unknown, but many signs point to creation in Italy in the late nineteenth century. Its medallions loosely represent Christ and the twelve apostles, with each face a small mosaic construction of cut shapes in mother of pearl and Venetian glass. These resemble portraits of saints decorating Byzantine-era boxes, book covers, and chalices in the Treasury of St. Mark's Basilica and other museums. However, jewelry was not a standard element of the attire of priests and religious officials in the tenth century, suggesting that this necklace is a revival piece made in the 1800s that evokes an earlier context. Some of the glass and shell may be repurposed from broken antique objects to increase the appearance of age and authenticity. Was this initially marketed as a studious tribute to the middle ages, or is it a finely crafted fake? Collector John Gellatly left behind no records of its purchase, and these questions remain under investigation.

Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano, 2021.

Luce Center Label

This necklace was originally thought to be from the early Byzantine period of the sixth century AD. Recent research, however, suggests that it is probably a copy done in the late nineteenth century. It is unusual for Byzantine artifacts to be replicated in this way, but at the turn of the twentieth century, many Russian museums were publishing their collections for the first time and copies were likely made from the photographs. Religious art flourished during the Byzantine period, and the interiors of churches were lavishly decorated to reflect the grandeur of heaven. As a result, altarpieces, icons, jewelry, and mosaics gleamed with gold, precious stones, and rich colors. Wealthy people in the Byzantine Empire wore jewelry containing icons of sacred figures as symbols of their devotion. This necklace is composed of a series of gold medallions, on which the images of Christ, his twelve apostles, and Constantine’s Cross have been illustrated in glass mosaic and gold paint.