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


All reliquaries derive their power from the relic they contain as well as from the beauty and intrinsic qualities of the vessel. Reliquaries in the form of busts became widespread during the High Middle Ages. This head, while of the type associated with Saint Ursula and her many martyred companions, contains the skull of Saint Balbina, an early virgin martyr of Rome. The label on the little door on top identifies the relic inside. She is richly dressed in a fashionable gown and with jewelry and an elaborate coiffure.