Reliquary of Saint Leopold
Reliquary of Saint Leopold
Reliquary of Saint Leopold
Reliquary of Saint Leopold
Reliquary of Saint Leopold
Reliquary of Saint Leopold

Master H.S.
1588

Material
Silver

Collection
Dom Museum Wien
On loan from the St. Leopold Parish, Vienna

Inv.Nr.
L/53

Silver
Relic
Renaissance

On view

Query
Reproduction request
Loan request

Photo: Leni Deinhardstein, Lisa Rastl, Dom Museum Wien
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Reliquary of Saint Leopold

This reliquary is precious not only because of its content: its rich figurativ decoration bears witness to the Habsburgs's striving for status.

The reliquary for Saint Leopold’s pelvic bone is a donation from the Habsburg Archduchess Elisabeth of Austria, Queen of France, made in the sixteenth century. The bone is presented behind glass in a gilt shrine that opens like a winged altarpiece. Both the inside and the outside of the altar show lavishly worked relief fields depicting the miracles of salvation at Saint Leopold’s tomb. An inscription panel that folds down reveals the relic’s provenance and symbolic significance. The back of the shrine confronts us with a representation of the famous finding of the veil, i.e., the legend of the foundation of Klosterneuburg Monastery by Leopold III, Margrave of Austria (b. 1075, Gars am Kamp or Melk, Lower Austria; d. 1136, near Klosterneuburg).

What makes this object so special is that it is not just a reliquary but also assembles the saints the House of Habsburg claimed as its forefathers: the shrine constitutes the center of a date palm whose trunk projects from a choppy river with crocodiles—the recently discovered exotic nature was a favored subject in Renaissance times. The palm fronds carry numerous figures of saints such as Coloman and Wenceslaus, each with his coat-of-arms and his name, presented as the family tree’s “fruit.” The donating couple in the central axis are the only two non-saints. Above them, we find Saint Leopold prominently positioned, though he was a member of the House of Babenberg. Yet since the Habsburgs regarded themselves as the House of Babenberg’s legitimate successors, they propagated Leopold as belonging to their family.

The assembly of saints tied up with the Habsburgs’ desire to document their position of pre-eminence among the noble houses: the greater the number of saints, the nobler the dynasty. Serving the House of Habsburg’s legitimization in conjunction with the family tree, the reliquary has an enormous political dimension.