Pillow from the Tomb of Bishop Antonio degli Agli, pre-1477, Museo del Tesoro di Santa Maria dell’Impruneta
Piero della Francesca’s mirror haloes in the Sant’Antonio Polyptych in Perugia
Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius - Roman, c. 176 CE
Things to think about when studying:
- How does the sculptor show the power of Marcus Aurelius / how do you know he is an emperor and not some regular guy?
Realer than Real
Two examples of simulacrum, or saints’ effigies in Rome.
Top: St. Leontia, a bishop’s daughter martyred in Africa by the Vandals in the 5th century. (At San Francisco d’Assisi a Ripa)
Bottom: St. Victoria, martyred for refusing to marry a pagan. Stabbed to death circa 250AD.
These are both made of wax. In both cases there is an urn at their feet containing internal relics. Though in St. Victoria’s case, the relics are also visible in her face (her skull can be seen behind her eyes and her teeth are real) and right hand (where the wax is purposefully cut away).
Sometimes these wax effigies are referred to as simulacrum, a word that originally referred specifically to an image of a god. That’s more or less how the word is used in this context. But what’s interesting is that the meaning of ‘simulacrum’ morphed over time- it later implied that the copy was second-rate and didn’t retain the particularities of the original. More recently, philosophers like Jean Baudrillard and writers like Umberto Eco and Jorge Luis Borges have used the term to discuss the relationship images and copies of images have to reality and truth.
It’s an interesting word choice- particularly in the case of these early martyrs. The historical truth about their lives can be hopelessly murky. The wax that covers their bones is almost certainly not their true likeness and the bones themselves may have a spurious background. But as we’ve seen before, the spiritual truth of relics is only tangentially related to their historical truth.
(All photos by me.)