Bursa Reliquary

Date: 10th century

Culture: North Italian

Medium: Bone, copper-gilt, wood

Dimensions: Overall: 7 3/4 x 7 5/16 x 3 1/4in. (19.7 x 18.6 x 8.3cm)

Classification: Ivories

Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1953

Accession Number: 53.19.2


Bursa, or purse-shaped, reliquaries are one of the oldest types of reliquary, with numerous surviving examples from the seventh century onward. This one, dating from the tenth century, displays a masterful treatment of ivory wherein the surface is modeled by incision and relief carving while the background is pierced through (ajouré). In the Middle Ages, it was common for ivory-covered reliquaries to display scenes of the life of the saint, whose remains were held within the container, but in this example, the ivory displays more purely decorative imagery.