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Reliquary

  • Place of origin:

    Belgium (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1250-1300 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silver parcel gilt

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Dr W. L. Hildburgh, FSA

  • Museum number:

    M.353-1956

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10

A reliquary is a container for displaying precious relics, consisting of the bones and possessions associated with Christ and the saints. In the Middle Ages these relics were thought to have miraculous powers and were greatly venerated. The faithful believed that by praying, and by touching a reliquary, they would receive protection against sickness and ill fortune.
Reliquaries were generally made of precious materials – gold or silver, with enamel or gems – and they took many forms. Some were shaped to represent the saint, or a body part such as an arm, leg, head, foot or finger. Others were designed as a monstrance, with the relic on view inside a glass compartment (Latin 'monstrare' means ‘to show’). Another style of reliquary, the tempietto (meaning ‘little temple’), reflected architectural forms of the period.
In this case the hand probably originally formed part of an arm reliquary. The relics (now lost) would have been visible through the windows in the fingers. The ring is worn almost at the fingertip, a common practice throughout the Middle ages and well into the 16th century.

Physical description

Sheet silver, parcel-gilt, set with mica and a stone (with modern wooden base).

Place of Origin

Belgium (possibly, made)

Date

1250-1300 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Silver parcel gilt

Dimensions

Height: 22.6 cm, Width: 11.1 cm, Depth: 5.1 cm, Weight: 0.32 kg

Object history note

Hildburgh Bequest

Historical significance: Reliquaries had a complex symbolic meaning. They were believed to be imbued with the holiness of the relic they preserved. The faithful believed that by touching a reliquary, they would receive some of this holy quality.

Reliquaries were central features of the Medieval Church Treasury. They symbolised the status and authority of the Church. Relics attracted pilgrims who made gifts and monetary donations to the Church in which they were held. Local people also gave in honour of their saint and to gain protection for themselves and their town. Thus relics could often give a sense of identity within the church community. Some reliquaries were used in religious precessions or festivals, which both involved the community and also reinforced the status of the Church.

Reliquaries were often shaped to represent the part of the body preserved. In this case the hand may have originally formed part of an arm. It was also common for reliquaries to be constructed from gold or silver and enameled or set with gems. The relics (now lost) would have been visible through the windows in the fingers. The style of the ring, worn almost at the fingertip, suggests a date of between 1400 and 1500.

Historical context note

The bones associated with the saints and the possessions associated with Christ are known as relics. In the Middle Ages they were generally believed to have miraculous powers and were greatly venerated.

Relics were kept in containers called reliquaries. Reliquaries took many forms. Some were shaped to represent a saint or various parts of the body such as an arm, leg, foot or finger (so-called 'speaking image' reliquaries). Others were designed as a monstrance, which placed the relic on view inside a glass cylinder (monstrare= to show). Another style of reliquary, was the tempietto reliquary, which means "little temple". These receptacles had an architectural design in the form of a shrine or church. This object is an example of a 'speaking image' reliquary. It is in the form of a saint's hand,and was probably originally a part of an arm reliquary, which would once have contained the arm or finger bone of the saint.

Descriptive line

Hand from an arm reliquary, silver, parcel-gilt, Belgium (Flanders), ca. 1250 -1300

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Williamson, P, ed. The Medieval Treasury, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1986, p.180
Braun, Joseph, Die Reliquarie des Christlichen Kultes und ihre Entwicklung, Freiburg am Breisgau, Herder, 1940, pp.338-411 and nos. 443-70
Montevecchi, B and Rocca, S, V, eds, Suppellettile Ecclesiastica, Florence: Centro Di, 1988, pp.190-1, 194-5
Baker, Malcolm, and Brenda Richardson (eds.), A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A Publications, 1999.
Leckey, Mark. The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things. Catalogue of the exhibition held at the Bluecoat, Liverpool, 16 February - 14 April 2013; Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, 27 April - 30 June, 2013 and De La Warr Pavillion, Bexhill-on-Sea, 12 July - 20 October, 2013. London: Hayward Publishing, 2013. ISBN 9781853323058
Charlesworth, J. J. Mark Leckey. ArtReview, vol. 66, no. 5, Summer 2014. pp. 86-91
Filipovic, Elena. 'The Real Embodiment of Ersatz Things', in Patrizia Dander and Elena Filipovic, eds, Mark Leckey: On Pleasure Bent. [Published to accompany the exhibitions 'Lending Enchantment to Vulgar Materials', September 26 2014 - January 11 2015, WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels; 'Mark Leckey', January 30 - May 31 2015, Haus der Kunst, Munich], Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung, 2014, pp. 34-41 (the reliquary is illustrated on p. 34). ISBN 978 3 86335 618 7

Labels and date

HAND RELIQUARY
Silver, parcel-gilt, set with mica and a stone
Southern Netherlands, probably 15th century
Unmarked

A reliquary is a container for displaying the bones and possessions associated with Christ and the saints. In the Middle Ages these relics were thought to have miraculous powers and were greatly venerated. The faithful believed that by touching a reliquary, they would receive protection against sickness and ill fortune.
Reliquaries were often made of precious materials - gold or silver, with enamel or gems - and they took many forms. Some were shaped to represent the saint, or a body part such as an arm or finger. Others were designed as a monstrance, with the relic on view inside a glass compartment (Latin monstrare means 'to show'). Another style of reliquary, the tempietto, reflected architectural forms of the period.
In this case the hand may have originally formed part of an arm. The relics (now lost) would have been visible through the windows in the fingers. The style of the ring, worn almost at the fingertip, suggests a date of between 1400 and 1500. As a piece of figural medieval silver it is a rare survivor.

Hildburgh Bequest
M.356 [sic]-1956 [1990-1995]
Reliquary
About 1250-1300

Reliquaries were often shaped to present the parts of the body. This hand may have originally formed part of an arm reliquary. The relics –now lost – would have been visible through the windows in the fingers.

Flanders
Silver, parcel-gilt
Museum no. M.353-1956
W. H. Hildburgh Bequest
[2009]

Materials

Silver; Mica; Wood

Techniques

Parcel-gilt

Categories

Access to Images; Images Online; Religion; Metalwork; Christianity

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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