Bursa Reliquary

The flat, geometric, and abstract style of the designs on this reliquary is similar to ivory carvings and architectural decoration of Northern Italy. The openwork patterns of the bone plaques were originally silhouetted against gilded copper foil, creating a play of light and shadow. Traces of green and vermilion paint can still be seen accentuating the interlace borders of the designs. 

The religious purpose of this box is indicated by the “cross” that divides its face into four fields. Its shape derives from purses, or bursas, made of precious textiles in which saints’ relics were carried.

Date: 10th century
Culture: North Italian
Medium: Bone, copper-gilt, wood
Dimensions: Overall: 7 3/4 x 7 5/16 x 3 1/4in. (19.7 x 18.6 x 8.3cm)
Classification: Ivories
Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1953
Accession Number: 53.19.2

By: metmuseum.org