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Reliquary Bust of Saint Balbina

Date:
ca. 1520–30
Geography:
Made in possibly Brussels, Belgium
Culture:
South Netherlandish
Medium:
Oak, paint, gilt
Dimensions:
Overall: 17 1/2 x 16 x 6 1/4 in. (44.5 x 40.6 x 15.9 cm)
Classification:
Sculpture-Wood
Credit Line:
Bequest of Susan Vanderpoel Clark, 1967
Accession Number:
67.155.23
On view at The Met Cloisters in Gallery 16
Medieval reliquaries often took the form of the body parts they were created to contain. Bust reliquaries for the skulls of saints were placed on or near altars and, by the late Middle Ages, were assembled in large numbers in some church sanctuaries, from Cologne in the north to Ubeda in southern Spain. These examples, with elaborate jewels, beautifully braided hair, and richly decorated gowns, probably represent companions of the virgin martyr Saint Ursula, believed to have been eleven thousand in number. The small glazed medallions resembling jewelry once displayed additional relics. On particular feast days, such busts could be carried in processions.
Louis Mohl, Paris (until 1912); his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris (May 14, 1912, no. 82); Stephen C. Clark (1882–1960)
Bois sculptés principalement des XVe et XVIe siècles [...] Composant la Collection de Feu M. Louis Mohl. Paris: Hôtel Drouot, May 14, 1912. no. 82, p. 24, ill.

Wixom, William D. "Medieval Sculpture at The Cloisters." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 46, no. 3 (Winter 1988-1989). p. 41.

Little, Charles T., ed. Set in Stone: The Face in Medieval Sculpture. New York, New Haven, and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006. no. 77, pp. 188-190.

Bagnoli, Martina, Holger A. Klein, C. Griffith Mann, and James Robinson, ed. Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe. Cleveland, Baltimore, and London: Cleveland Museum of Art, 2010. no. 107, p. 194.



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