Italian Reliquary Busts and Statues of Ss. Peter and Paul

Since the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul traditionally was celebrated as an octave, it seems fitting to prolong our consideration of this important feast with another consideration of some liturgical art these two apostles were frequently found within. I am speaking here of the reliquary bust -- a feature that was commonly seen on the high altars of Italian churches in particular for solemnities and other important ecclesiastical occasions.

These reliquaries frequently come in bust form (i.e. depictions from the chest to the head) but not infrequently they also turn up in full figural portrayals.

I thought it might be of interest to LAJ readers to take a closer look at a few examples of reliquaries coming from Italy in the later 17th and 18th centuries in particular.  Many of these are gilt with gold leaf, while others are painted in full colour. My intent is to show a few different styles in which these came. With that in mind, let's take a look.

Lazio, 18th century
Bari, 18th century
Second half of the 17th century, Lazio
Reliquary of St. Peter, Avezzano, 17th - 18th century
Northern Italy, 19th century
Lazio, 17th century
Palestrina, first half of the 17th century
18th century, Lombardy -- evidently at one time the figure of Peter would have held the keys and Paul, the sword.
Marche, late 17th century
Parma, last quarter of the 18th century
Rimini, second half of the 18th century
It goes without saying that these reliquary busts and figures also came in the shape and form of numerous other saints as well. Additionally, in many such reliquaries, St. Peter is symbolically depicted wearing the tiara (though this seems less common than the portrayals seen above).

When a Roman altar is fully decked out with reliquaries such as these on important festal occasions, they make for quite a stunning display indeed.

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