The veneration of the physical remains of saints––or objects with which they had come into contact—began to be practiced during the Early Christian era. In A.D. 393, the Church decreed that every altar must have a relic. Placed inside reliquaries and set on altars, these sacred objects soon became an essential part of Christian ceremony and were frequently ascribed miraculous powers. During the medieval era their numbers proliferated, and reliquaries were decorated with lavish and costly materials.
Apart from shrines, reliquaries often took the form of arms, hands, feet, or heads to house the bones of venerated saints. The Kimbell Reliquary Arm, with hand raised in the gesture of the Latin benediction, encased the bone fragment of an unknown saint. A crystal was set into the arm at a later date, probably the fifteenth century, transforming the reliquary into a monstrance so that the relic could be viewed by the faithful.
The beautiful enamel work is characteristic of Mosan art, which flourished during the twelth and thirteenth centuries in the Meuse valley (today in Belgium and northeastern France).
Probably from a church treasury in the province of Liège.
Collection of the Baron de Decker, Brussels in the 19th century.
acquired on the art market in New York in 1937.
(Ernest Brummer [1891-1964], Paris, New York, and Zurich), to 1979;
Mrs. Ernest Brummer, to 1979;
(Brummer sale, Galerie Koller AG, Zurich, 17 October 1979, no. 202), see above note ;
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1979.