These early 16th century reliquary busts of saints in the collections of the Cloisters both intrigued and repulsed me.
I love the women’s serene faces, their elaborate hairstyles and meticulously rendered clothes. I’m amazed by how precise the carving is, and how vivid the colours some 500 years later.
They are such beautiful, unique, examples of what was admired and desirable in women in late Renaissance Belgium.
At the same time, I can’t get past what they are: reliquary boxes. Containers for holding human remains: the skulls and other bones of saints. There are little doors in the top of the heads so that they could open the heads on feast days. I presume that the bones were removed long before the busts made it to the Cloisters, but I still have trouble adjusting my beliefs on how human remains should be treated with the attitudes and customs of the Renaissance Catholic Church.
It’s another example of how my aesthetic attraction to the past constantly makes me consider and question my modern beliefs and attitudes, and how they compare to historical beliefs and attitudes.