Reliquary Bust of a Holy Bishop

Unknownc. 1515/20

Bode-Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Bode-Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Berlin, Germany

This is a “speaking” reliquary, meaning that the figure itself indicates from which part of the body the relics it contains are derived. To this day it contains bones: a portion of skull is visible under a flap between the horns of the bishop’s mitre, while a cloth-wrapped fragment of rib is preserved under the large rock crystal at his breast, which serves compositionally as the clasp of his pluvial (cope). An accompanying strip of parchment bearing a Latin inscription has been damaged, and we can no longer decipher which sainted bishop was venerated here in former times. Some of the details that so richly adorn this image are worthy of particular note. One such is the Madonna, shown on a crescent moon and surrounded by a corona, painted on the gold ground of the pluvial cowl. Another is the four medallions on the mitre, which compare portraits of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar with those of the Holy Roman Emperors Maximilian I and Charles V.


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