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.
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Title:Reliquary Bust of Saint Balbina
Geography:Made in possibly Brussels, Belgium
Medium:Oak, with paint and gilding, and human remains
Dimensions:Overall: 17 1/2 x 16 x 6 1/4 in. (44.5 x 40.6 x 15.9 cm)
Credit Line:Bequest of Susan Vanderpoel Clark, 1967
Inscription: Caput San[c]t[a]e balbin[a]e v[ir]ginis (head of Saint Balbina the Virgin)
Louis Mohl, Paris (until 1912); his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris (May 14, 1912, no. 82); [ Demotte Inc., Paris (from 1912)]; Stephen C. Clark
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Set in Stone: The Face in Medieval Culture," September 26, 2006–February 18, 2007.
Cleveland. Cleveland Museum of Art. "Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe," October 17, 2010–January 17, 2011.
Baltimore. Walters Art Museum. "Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe," February 13, 2011–May 15, 2011.
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.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Ninety-Second Annual Report of the Trustees of The Metropolitan Museum of Art for the Fiscal Year 1961-1962." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 21, no. 2 (October 1962). p. 81.
Splendeurs d'Espagne et les villes belges 1500-1700: Bruxelles, Palais des Beaux-Arts, 25 septembre-22 décembre 1985. Vol. 2. Brussels: Crédit Communal, 1985. p. 519.
Wixom, William D. "Medieval Sculpture at The Cloisters." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 46, no. 3 (Winter 1988-1989). pp. 40–41.
McGowan, Gary, and Cheryl LaRoche. "The Ethical Dilemma Facing Conservation: Care and Treatment of Human Skeletal Remains and Mortuary Objects." Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 35, no. 2 (Summer 1996). p. 111, fig. 1a, 1b.
Boehm, Barbara Drake. "Body-Part Reliquaries: The State of Research." Gesta 36, no. 1 (1997). p. 11.
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.
Ciseri, Ilaria, ed. Gli avori del Museo nazionale del Bargello. Milan: Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 2018. p. 379.
Lefftz, Michel. "The Creative Identity of the Bormans: A Stylistic Approach." In Borman: A Family of Northern Renaissance Sculptors, edited by Marjan Debaene. Leuven: Museum Leuven, 2019. no. 171, p. 90.
Debaene, Marjan, ed. Borman: A Family of Northern Renaissance Sculptors. Leuven: Museum Leuven, 2019. no. 171, p. 246.
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