Portable reliquary chapel

Mechelen (?) – 1st half of 16th century
Composite materials (oil on wood, metal, textile, wax, paper and glass)
26 x 39.5 x 4.7 cm

Inv. 2009.3.1

Acquisition 2009
With a contribution from the Museums Regional Acquisition Fund

Major works | Earthly & Spiritual Matters

Mysteries, mysteries…

This type of small reliquary chapel was made by Beguines or nuns. The practice dates back to the 13th century and is typical of devotional practices in Flanders. Often small in size, these chapels were given to generous donors.

This work is distinct by its triptych form with two painted panels. The first panel, on the left, depicts Saint Jerome, as a hermit, with a beard and bare-chested, striking his chest with a stone before the Cross. Two other attributes of his, the cardinal’s hat placed on a branch and the lion at his feet, complete the scene. On the right, Saint John the Baptist, recognisable by his animal hide and cross, seems to be pointing to the River Jordan in which he baptised Christ.

In the middle, in a composition of floral embroideries, now long-gone relics were attached and captions written about them on a piece of paper.

The panel backs, once closed, show the instruments of the Passion of Christ on Calvary, a subject of meditation and repentance for believers.