Reliquary Bust of Saint Balbina

South Netherlandish

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.

Reliquary Bust of Saint Balbina, Oak, with paint and gilding, and human remains, South Netherlandish

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