This foot-shaped reliquary was a hit on Instagram this week and it deserves its own post.
The drawing comes from The Decorative Arts Ecclesiastical and Civil of the Middle Ages (1851) by Henry Shaw (1800-1873). Henry Shaw was an English engraver, illuminator and draftsman. He published beautiful antiquarian books that examined topics ranging from Medieval alphabet ornamentation to furniture design and costume. Archive.org has several dozen of Shaw’s publications freely available, and we enjoyed Shaw’s precise and colorful drawings in Illuminated Ornaments (1833) and The Hand Book of Mediaeval Alphabets (1853).
Reliquaries are containers for relics (often the real or purported remains of saints), and are used in Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and many other religions. The relics inside might be a bone or tooth or even bits of clothing. As relics are considered priceless, reliquaries generally are made of precious materials such as gemstones, ivory, gold and silver. Sometimes, the shape of the reliquary is designed similarly to the relic contained within. In this case, the actual foot reliquary that this drawing depicts (supposedly) contains the foot bones of a little boy from Bethlehem who was murdered by the orders of King Herod.
The reliquary was created around 1450 and was once part of the treasury at the formerly Catholic Cathedral Basel Minster in Basel Switzerland, and is now housed in the Swiss National Museum. You might want to check out the real object here in this blog post by a historian from the museum.
We couldn’t resist playing spot-the-difference. The drawing is almost spot on, but there is (1) a crack in the object not visible in the drawing, (2) a few gems are different colors on the ankle bar, and (3) finally, there is a missing gold flower near the purple gem in the drawing version. We repaired the drawing and removed the background. Check it out here if you’re interested in using it for your own commercial or personal projects.