Relics & Reliquaries

Reliquary Chasse with Scenes from the Life of Christ

The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Reliquary Chasse with Scenes from the Life of Christ

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This reliquary chasse has much in common with other enameled Limoges chasses in this exhibition, but it is significantly larger and includes a number of inscriptions. In its present state, the front of the casket features several scenes from the life of Christ: along the top are the Presentation in the Temple, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Flight into Egypt, and on the lower panel, Christ carrying the Cross, the Crucifixion, and the Holy Women at the Tomb. On the back of the reliquary Christ and the Virgin are each depicted with a group of standing apostles, including St. Martial, the patron saint of Limoges who, in the Middle Ages, was thought to be an apostolic saint. However, photographs of this piece taken before it was sold in 1886 show that the panels have been rearranged: before 1886, the scenes from the life of Christ were positioned on the top of the reliquary, and the panels showing Christ and the Virgin surrounded by apostles were each positioned on the main faces of the casket. The earlier photographs show that the crest and legs have also been changed, and testing of the enamels has indicated some areas of post-medieval repairs. Given the ease with which enamel panels can be repositioned on a wood core, it is possible that such changes could have occurred several times over the centuries. On the shorter ends of the casket, Christ and the Virgin are presented again: the Annunciation to the Virgin is shown on one end, and Christ in Majesty is shown on the other, where a small door allows access to the reliquary chamber.

Kathryn B. Gerry