The Reliquary Bust

For many, the thought of a reliquary brings to mind a small ostensorium shaped object, but if you turn toward Europe a much grander tradition can be found: the reliquary bust. The purpose is absolutely identical of course, but these combined the function of the reliquary with the sculptural tradition to create a grandiose display that was meant to ornament high altars on the most important feasts. 

In the past we have shared various reliquaries dedicated to Ss. Peter and Paul, some coming in the form of busts, others in full figural form. Today's examples give a wider range of examples but solely focused on the bust, coming down from various centuries. Readers will note that their form varies from full colour representations to those which are gilt or made of metal. 

All of the examples shown here come from Italy where this tradition seems strongest. We have spoken before of the importance of marking the most important feasts with greater festivity and certainly objects of liturgical art such as these have a profound impact on the altars they adorn on such liturgical occasions. It is certainly a tradition which deserves wider international currency. 

19th century reliquary of St. Ambrose

Reliquary of St. Eligio, 1618-1711

Reliquary of St. Blaise, first half of the 17th century

Reliquary of St. Philip of Agira, 17th century

Reliquary of St. Urbitius, 1640-1660

Reliquary of the 18th century

St. Charles Borromeo, 1775-1799

Reliquary bust of St. Ambrose, 1850-1874

Reliquary of St. Antonino, 17th century

Late 18th century reliquary of an unknown saints

16th century reliquary of St. Artemio (1540-1560)

17th century reliquary of St. Philip Neri

17th century reliquary of St Lucy

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