A Medieval Osculatory's Very Dear Kiss

On 09 July 2020, by Anne Doridou-Heim

A 13th-century ivory osculatory surprised the secular world with a price reaching heavenly heights.

Osculatory or Kiss of Peace, ivory carved with the Crucifixion between the Virgin and Saint John and emblems of the Passion, 13th century, 7.3 x 5.1 cm.
Result: €312,000

This unpretentious rectangular ivory kiss of peace or holy kiss, carved with the Crucifixion between the Virgin and Saint John on the front, and the emblems of the Passion in the corners, fetched €312,000. For now, there is no accounting for this surprise – it had been very modestly estimated at €800 to €1,200. Was the auction miraculous? Probably not. The origin of this practice during the celebration of the Eucharist is found in Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans 16: "Greet one another with a holy kiss." A sign of communion, it was attested in 150 CE by Saint Justin and exchanged chastely on the lips. In 397 CE, it was forbidden between men and women and in the 13th century reserved for clerics only. The custom of transmitting peace to the laity by means of a small plate, usually in gilded or silvered bronze, was born at this time. Physical contact was suppressed but the gesture’s religious meaning remained. This piece is rare on two counts: it is made of ivory and dates to the 13th century, ranking it amongst the oldest of its kind.

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