Reliquary Bust of one of the 11,000 Virgins of Cologne
unknown Florentine sculptor or Mariano d'Agnolo Romanelli, attributed to
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This painted wood bust of one of the 11,000 virgin companions of St. Ursula, made in the late fourteenth century and housed in the museum of Santa Maria Novella, has a glass covered container for a tiny relic, set into a sculpted medallion on her dress like a jewel. Friar Gherardo Fiorentino had brought this relic to Florence about a hundred years before. St. Ursula, a princess who agreed to marry a king, did so on the condition that she and her 11,000 virgin followers be taken on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where they were all martyred. Even though this shows one of the companions, not Ursula herself, as made clear by an inscription inside the reliquary container, the splendid clothes and diadem make this a royal image. A very similar reliquary bust of one of Ursula's companions, also housed in the same collection, was surely commissioned and the same time and displayed along with this example. Unlike the other bust from the same collection, the head of the figure is not hollowed to contain a skull. The relic here is a tiny fragment of the skull of the virgin, but she is also made seem present in the living flesh in this portrait, which is idealized according to the standards of the time -- almond eyes, rosebud lips, a columnar neck, etc. The sculpture is enriched with pastiglia (three dimensional ornaments of gesso) and glass paste imitation gems. The polychromy and gilding in the hair seems to be original. The dress was originally also gilded. (Only the red bole underlayer survives.) The work, which is finer in style than the companion piece, has been attributed to the Sienese Mario d'Agnolo Romanelli or, probably more likely, a Florentine sculptor of the late Trecento (c. 1375-85), such as Domenico Fetti. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.