This bust could either depict Queen Matilda (1102-1167), or is a reliquary bust of a Christian female saint. A reliquary is an enshrined container of the purported physical remnants of a saint, and the present bust would have been placed on or near an altar in a church for worship, as well as to attract pilgrimage and would have been carried in processions. The split in the Christian church at the beginning of the sixteenth century and the spread of Protestantism was much to do with criticism of the Catholic cult of saints, and resulted in widespread iconoclastic destruction of images, particularly in northern Europe, with the result that the present bust is a rare survival of medieval imagery.
Some examples of the late-Gothic wood sculptures originally used as a sacred reliquary are housed in the Museen der Stadt Aachen, Germany, and were exhibited in the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo (26 April – 26 June, 1994). For more information, see the exhibition catalogue, Kawaguchi Kimio et al., ed., Seinaru katachi: Koki-goshikku no kibori to itae (Heilige und Menschen: eine Ausstellung des Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Museen der Stadt Aachen), (Tokyo, 1994).
A master of modern painting and a libertine persona, the Kyoto artist Takeuchi Seiho (see image above) was recognised for his stylistic versatility and technical virtuosity. Following his 1901 return from his one trip to Europe, he painted scenes of foreign monuments, a popular innovation. In Europe, he was impressed by the work of Turner and Corot and took a keen interest in Western art, as is clear from his acquisition of the German bust of a crowned female saint offered here. Seiho even tried his hand at oil painting. In 1914, he was appointed Teishitsu gigeiin [Imperial Household Artist] and was commissioned to paint screens commemorating the coronation of the Taisho Emperor. He was a teacher and established his own school, guiding the careers of countless artists. He attained celebrity status in the Kyoto art world, refusing to move to Tokyo, which had become a more vibrant centre for the arts. His personal life was complicated, and he supported several households. Itemising Seiho’s artistic pursuits—poetry, Noh dance and kabuki, among others—Ellen Conant has compared Seiho to the aesthetes of fin-de-siècle Europe (see Conant, “Cut from Kyoto Cloth: Takeuchi Seiho and His Artistic Milieu,” Impressions 33 , pp.71–93 www.japaneseartsoc.org).
The fulcrum of Seiho’s personal and professional life was the Nishijin textile district of Kyoto. His early and lasting patrons included the nowinternational Takashimaya Company and its owners, the Iida family. Seiho furnished designs for some of the textiles the company produced for the Imperial family. He produced paintings for cut-velvet and embroidered wall hangings that won prizes for Takashimaya. Some were exhibited at the Japan-British Exhibition in London in 1910. Seiho even designed a bronze fountain in the shape of a gigantic lotus for the abbot of the Kyoto temple Higashi Honganji. The range of his work, his innovation, elegance and wit elevated him to the status of a master of modern art.