Rare 18th Century Continental Carved Giltwood Dome Top Alterpiece
European Heavily Carved Giltwood Dome Top Altarpiece | Circa 1760, or possibly earlier | This beautiful all original altarpiece is very ornate with corinthian columns and an open work dome top | The top of the dome has small pulleys, indicating the altarpiece would have been raised and lowered in the sanctuary. Given this, it is believed that the piece may have been either a hanging pyx or reliquary, or may have housed/decorated an effigy or monument, and crowned the vault above the altar.
A very rare item for sale – A European Heavily Carved Giltwood Dome Top Altarpiece | Circa 1760, possibly earlier | This beautiful all original altarpiece is very ornate with corinthian columns and an open work dome top | The top of the dome has small pulleys, indicating the altarpiece would have been raised and lowered in the sanctuary. Given this, it is likely the piece served as a hanging pyx or reliquary, or may have housed/decorated an effigy or monument, and crowned the vault above the altar | Dimensions: 61″H X 29″W X 16″D | In very good condition considering age and use; Altarpiece is missing a small piece of decorative scroll at the top of the dome.
The argument for this fixture being part of a hanging pyx or reliquary that stored the Eucharist is suggested both by the pulley system installed on its dome top, and the shape of the altarpiece. There were three different ways of keeping the reserved Eucharist. These three were the Altar Tabernacle, the Suspended Tabernacle or Hanging Pyx, and the Aumbry or Sacrament House in the wall of the Sanctuary. While a pyx or pix (Latin: pyxis, transliteration of Greek: πυξίς, boxwood receptacle, from πύξος, box tree) is the name for a small round container used to carry the consecrated host (Eucharist), it also sometimes refers to the altarpiece known as the Hanging or Suspended Tabernacle that housed and concealed the Eucharist. This Tabernacle would have been shrouded with a cloth canopy.
The term pyx is also a standard term used in the Catholic Church to refer to a flat, circular container, sometimes called a lunette, composed of a ring of metal (usually lined with gold) holding two glass or crystal disks, to create a round, flat, glass-enclosed space for the Eucharistic Host. This is used together with a monstrance for exposition and Benediction services. The lunette is often kept in another object, itself sometimes called a pyx, luna, or custodia, which is usually a round box often on a small stand, giving the impression of a faceless, old-fashioned, alarm clock.
Other objects used in the Sacrament were also normally kept within the church tabernacle when they are not being carried. The tabernacle may be behind the main altar, at a side altar, or within a special Eucharistic chapel. The hanging pyx is a suspended form of tabernacle, or place of reservation in other words, for the Blessed Sacrament.
Archdale King suggested the hanging py or tabernacle was a “very general” (though not universal) form of Eucharistic reservation throughout England, Scotland and France during the middle ages — and continued in France and elsewhere thereafter (Peter F. Anson).
Of its characteristics, ornamentation and function, King stated: “The usual method for fixing the pyx was for a crane or pulley to be so arranged over the altar as to permit of the ready raising or lowering of the pyx, which was suspended by a cord or chain attached to a ring on its top. Above the pyx was hung the canopy, a circular tent-like construction formed of some costly fabric, which was generally attached to a ring and ornamental crown of metal. The pyx itself was veiled in a pyx cloth, which often had the form of a square napkin, with a hole in the middle, through which the suspending cord passed, and weighted tassles at the four corners which kept it down close by the pyx.
18th Century, 19th Century
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