Relics & Reliquaries

Reliquary Frame

The Cleveland Museum of Art, gift of Ruth Blumka in memory of Leopold Blumka

Reliquary frame

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The present reliquary, which is double-sided, rests upon a gilded rectangular base decorated with foliate pastiglia designs, glass cabochons, punching, and four verre eglomisé heraldic panels. This supports a gabled rectangular frame adorned with pastiglia and inset with glass rosettes protecting seventeen labeled relics.

One inscription dates the object to 1347. Another, along with two heraldic panels on the base, identifies the patron: Mino di Cino of the aristocratic Sienese Cinughi family. Two further heraldic panels belong to the Ospedale di Sta. Maria della Scala, Siena's foremost hospital, orphanage, and charitable institution. Mino di Cino Cinughi was the Osepedale's rector from 1340 until 1351; rectors typically commissioned gifts for the foundation emblazoned with their family's and the Ospedale's arms. The frame once enclosed a verre eglomisé depicting the Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints above the Annunciation (fig. Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, M 56 & A-1904). Documentary evidence records that another nowlost glass showing the Crucifixion sat back to back with this one.

Two inscriptions state that an artist named "Lucas" made this reliquary. These might refer to St. Luke, who legendarily painted the Virgin from life, thus constituting a claim for the authenticity for the object, the central image of the Virgin, and the surrounding relics. More convincing, however, is the idea that they are the "signature" of a documented artist called Lucas, brother of the accomplished Sienese goldsmith and enameler Ugolino di Vieri. Lucas seems to have been a highly versatile craftsman specialized in translating the visual idioms of luxury metalwork into other, less precious, media. Indeed, the present ensemble makes strong allusions to metalwork, in particular the verre eglomisé, which simulates the appearance of enamel.

Detachable from its base, the upper part could have been mounted on a pole and carried aloft in processions. Otherwise, the object likely resided upon the altar of a small chapel. The reliquary celebrates Siena's principal patron saint, the Virgin, and reiterates the Ospedale's devotion to her. The relics seem to have been chosen for their relationship to the Ospedale's activities, including the housing of pilgrims and care of the sick. For example, pieces of the True Cross are the ultimate pilgrimage relic; Sts. Juliana and Elizabeth of Hungary were healers whose relics are also included. Relics of the Holy Innocents may refer to the Ospedale's rescue of children, while several others belonging to mothers, such as Felicitas, a Roman matron martyred with her sons, evoke the foundlings' absent mothers and the Ospedale's own parental role.

Virginia Brilliant