Reliquary Bust of Saint Balbina, Oak, paint, gilt, South Netherlandish

Reliquary Bust of Saint Balbina

ca. 1520–30
Made in possibly Brussels, Belgium
South Netherlandish
Oak, paint, gilt
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
Accession Number:
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
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.

The 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.