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Work Arm Reliquary of Saint Louis of Toulouse

Department of Decorative Arts: Middle Ages

Bras-reliquaire de saint Louis de Toulouse

© 2010 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Decorative Arts
Middle Ages

Author(s):
Barbier Muriel

St. Louis, the bishop of Toulouse, was canonized in 1317. He was the brother of Robert of Anjou, king of Naples. The arm reliquary was made for Sancia, the wife of Robert of Anjou, to hold a relic of the saint. Its companion piece, containing relics of St. Luke, is also in the Louvre. The two arms, decorated with translucent enamel, are rare examples of artwork produced for the Angevin court in Naples.

Coats of arms identifying the patrons

The reliquary has been identified by an inscription stating that it contained the arm bone of St. Louis - which has since disappeared. Armorial bearings show that the arm was made for the court of Naples. Indeed, the enamel work depicts the coats of arms of Aragon, Castile, and Leon; on the base there are the arms of Doña Leonor, the widow of Fernando IV, king of Castile and Aragon and the founder of Medina del Campo in Castile (1418). Tradition holds that she donated the two reliquaries of St. Louis and St. Luke to the community. They were still in the convent in 1888 and were separated at the end of the 19th century then reunited in 1984, when the arm reliquary of St. Luke joined the Louvre's collections. The two works were made in Naples for Queen Sancia of Majorca, the wife of Robert of Anjou.

Materials and techniques that date the work

The arm reliquary of St. Louis of Toulouse is made of a cylinder of rock crystal which was bought from a Neapolitan merchant in 1336. The crystal has been set in a very architectural enameled silver mount, with buttresses and pinnacles. The octagonal base is covered with translucent enamel over basse-taille silver. In this technique, a chased or engraved gold or silver plaque is coated with translucent enamel; after firing, the low relief can be seen through the translucent layer of enamel. The earliest surviving examples of basse-taille enameling come from Sienna and the technique developed and spread throughout Italy in the 14th century. The arm reliquary ends in St. Louis's right hand raised in blessing. The ring on the ring finger was added by Madame Spitzer to replace the missing episcopal ring. The powerfully modeled hand, with its fleshy palm and deep folds is characteristic of a trend in metalwork in the late thireenth and early fourteenth century, showing a taste for sculpture in the round.

Italian goldsmiths at the court of Naples

The kings of the Angevin dynasty used the services of Italian and French goldsmiths in the kingdom of Naples. Italian, and particularly Sienese, goldsmiths introduced an innovative art form in this area, using the vivid colors - sapphire blue, emerald green, golden yellow, and purple - that can be seen on the arm reliquary of St. Louis of Toulouse. This arm reliquary is one of the finest pieces of work by the goldsmiths, who were trained in Siena but worked in Naples.

Bibliography

Gaborit-Chopin Danielle, "Le bras-reliquaire de saint Luc au musée du Louvre", in Antologia di Belle Arti, n 27-28, 1985.
Nouvelles acquisitions du département des objets d'art 1980-1984, exposition au Louvre, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1985.

Technical description

  • Naples (1336 - 1338)

    Bras-reliquaire de saint Louis de Toulouse

    Provient du trésor de Medina del Campo

  • Argent doré, émaux de basse-taille sur argent, cristal de roche

    H. : 62,50 cm. ; D. : 17,50 cm.

  • Don Mme Spitzer, 1891 , 1891

    OA 3254

  • Decorative Arts

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Additional information about the work

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