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Reliquary (Chasse)

Artist/maker unknown, French

Made in Limoges, France, Europe


Gilded copper alloy with champlevé enamel inlay; painted wood; iron

8 7/8 x 9 1/2 x 3 7/8 inches (22.5 x 24.1 x 9.8 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

* Gallery 216, European Art 1100-1500, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of Henry P. McIlhenny, 1950

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On this houselike box made to contain the relics of saints are the following scenes: the Journey of the Magi [front top]; the Adoration of the Magi [front bottom]; a standing saint [left and right sides]; a composition with quatrefoils [back].

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    A chasse is a church-shaped container for relics, ultimately descended from the sarcophagus used for a saint's burial. A small coffer such as this could be transported easily to an altar for veneration. The linear decoration was incised into the cold metal, and the colored areas created by pouring enamel into grooves in the surface. When heated, the enamel became glass-like and bonded with the metal; it was then polished down to the level of the surrounding metal. Finally, the three-dimensional heads were cast and attached. In the twelfth century, the production of gilded metal objects with enameled decoration became a specialty of French workshops around Limoges and developed into a flourishing international business. The visit of the Three Kings (Magi) to the newborn Christ was a popular subject for such works in the early thirteenth century. Here their journey is depicted on the roof of the chasse, while below they offer their gifts to the Virgin and Child. Given the prominence of the Magi, this chasse may have been intended to house a relic related to the kings. Dean Walker, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 108.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.

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