The relicario is the Latin American version of the reliquary locket, a small, finely wrought devotional pendant used to contain relics and mementos of the saints. Martha Egan, renowned authority on Latin American folk art, spent more than five years of travel and investigation finding and documenting the finest examples of Iberian and Latin American reliquary art worldwide. Relicarios: Devotional Miniatures from the Americas presents 125 refined examples of a religious art that rivals the illuminated books and gilded altars of the Medieval and Renaissance periods.
Relicarios—finely crafted, bi-faced lockets of gold or silver—are artifacts of the Spanish Colonial era. These exquisite jewels containing devotional imagery protected by glass may include paintings on vellum, nacre, alabaster, copper, or ivory; prints; or miniature sculptures of boxwood, ivory, alabaster, or tagua. Although tons of relics were imported from Europe, particularly by Jesuits, in general only high-status individuals wore relicarios containing relics. Relicarios attest to colonists’ dedication to their favorite Virgins and saints as well as fealty to church and crown. As powerful amulets they protected wearers in a precarious world. Relicarios reflects forty years of the author’s research, including correspondence and interviews with relicarieros, art historians, curators, collectors, silversmiths, anticuarios, and clergy as well as the author’s collection of several hundred examples. Some 200 photos commissioned from leading art photographers in the Americas were mostly unpublished until this handsome volume.