Devotionalia

Part of the permanent religious art display is dedicated to devotionalia – to items that were used for the expression of piety in private settings, with no sacerdotal presence or liturgical rules. The peak of this cult came in the Baroque, particularly in the 18th century. The collection of devotionalia consists of diverse religious objects among which the most numerous are what are called votive images and reliquaries in the form of a picture with a more or less opulent frame of carved and gilt wood, followed by medallions, small household altars, crosses and rosaries.

Votive images derived from the small devotional images that had been carried in prayer books since as far back as the 14th century. Holy images with the figures of the Virgin and Child, Jesus or some saint, made by miniaturists, illuminators and engravers later became the centres of votive images, around which were placed decorations of diverse materials, exhibiting a similarity to popular or vernacular artistic expression. In this decorative framework, relics of saints wrapped in cloth or paper with their names written down were often placed in this framing decoration, in which case what is at issue is a reliquary. In many of the exhibited specimens the space around the central depiction is filled with embroidery and gold needlework, and some of the votive images or reliquaries have not only pious pictures but also in the centre a wax relief or wax medallion with a depiction of a given saint or church father. These votive images were made in the convents of the Ursuline and Cistercian orders, and hence in the literature are referred to as Klosterarbeit; since the reverence for them is typical of the culture of central Europe, they are usually referred to by this settled German term. In Croatia they were done in Ursuline convents, and we can find them recorded under the name “fancy work of nuns’ making”.

The earliest museum example of a votive image – a reliquary of the second half of the 17th century is in the form of a tripartite display case with reliquaries, wax medallions and a central motif of the Wounds of Christ. Particularly remarkable for its quality is a devotional image with a figure of the Virgin and reliquaries made in Landshut in Bavaria, in the mid-18th century. The central etching on silk is the work of Johann Melchior Gutwein, engraver of Augsburg, who worked for the nunnery of the Ursulines in Landshut.