This pair of silvered wooden reliquaries are from France, circa 1750. The backs are still preserved by wax seals, indicating that the relics were never removed.
Each reliquary has an engraved piece of silver hammered onto the front of wooden forms; some of the nails used are visible. The details of the engraving are amazing, with numerous curled acanthus leaves, shells and scrolls being present. Two scrolled feet sit on top of a shaped wooden base with thick molding and old parcel gilding. A shaped handle is affixed to the back to optimize handling.
Near the top of each reliquary is a small hex-shaped piece of glass surrounded by etched C-scrolls. This “window” allows the relics housed inside to be viewed. The viewing portal rests on a scalloped shell, with gadrooning occupying the remaining surrounding space. The topmost gadrooning is mounted by a roundel and rises into a foliate crown.
Originally, a reliquary was designed to be a container for relics, such as small remains of a saint or a scrap of fabric that they once wore. The importance of reliquaries has been around since the 4th century, but over time they were also used to house belongings of non-religious privileged individuals, such as kings of France. Reliquaries fell out of favor when Protestants objected to Catholics’ deep devotion to saints as idols. Today, our pair of silvered wooden reliquaries from 18th century France would make fantastic decorative items. Fine examples such as these are highly sought after by collectors.
CONDITION: Wear commensurate to age and use with missing silver elements. Age separations and minor losses to the bases, specifically chips to the gilding, leaving traces of gesso. Please see photos for details.