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Goldsmith’s Art

Bust reliquary of St Pantalus from the treasury of Basle Munster

Key data

Basle, after 1270

Silver and copper, embossed, engraved, gilded

height 49 cm

Inv. 1882.87.


Of all the different forms of reliquary, the head or bust reliquary is particularly impressive, as it required the artist to portray the human face. This head of St Pantalus, the legendary first bishop of Basle, was probably created by a local goldsmith, after the relic of the saint's skull was donated by the city of Cologne in 1270. Four lions support the shoulders and bearded head of the mitred bishop. The forceful delineation of the features and the fixed stare of the painted eyes give the image a hieratic presence. The head must have appeared even more removed from reality originally, when the decorative bands of leaf sprays and precious stones on the shoulders and mitre were intact. The materials were carefully selected: the shoulders and supports and the bands of the mitre were made only of copper, while the head and the mitre, as the focus of the reliquary, were made of silver. After the dispersal of the treasury of the Munster in 1834, the relic of St Pantalus's skull in the reliquary, along with other relics, went to the monastery of Mariastein, where it remains today on the altar of St Pantalus.

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