Issued: 18 July 2019


A gold renaissance reliquary featuring a religious painting

The Ashmolean is delighted to announce the acquisition of an exceptionally rare Italian Renaissance reliquary.  Dating to c. 1510–30, the object features lavish decorative details and an inscription bearing the name of a nun, Sister Lucrezia of Penna, making it an important example of female patronage.  The reliquary has been donated by Sam Fogg Ltd. and allocated to the Museum by the Arts Council under the Cultural Gifts Scheme.  It is displayed in the Ashmolean’s Arts of the Renaissance Gallery.

Dr Xa Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean, says:  ‘The Cultural Gifts Scheme has already had an enormous impact on the Ashmolean’s collections and the Museum is profoundly grateful to Sam Fogg Ltd. and to the Arts Council for this important gift.’

‘The reliquary is a beautiful addition to the Ashmolean’s distinguished collection of Italian Renaissance decorative art.  It shows craftsmanship of the highest quality and is an invaluable and evocative object that can tell us much about the role of women as patrons, recipients and consumers of art in Renaissance Italy.

The reliquary was made in northern Italy, possibly in Padua, by unknown artists.  It features a copper-gilt standing cross which, unusually, frames a miniature gouache painting of the Pietà.  The richly coloured scene shows the Virgin Mary, flanked by two angels, cradling the body of Christ after the Crucifixion.  The intricate metalwork includes a foliage frieze and mask in bas-relief around the base. Radiating palmettes and two horned-animal heads form the cruciform picture frame.  The complicated and expensive decoration indicates the work of an outstanding goldsmith.

The object bears two interesting inscriptions.  On the reverse of the frame is written ‘Here is to be found wood from the Holy Cross’ (HIC IACET LIGNUM SANTE CRUCIS).  It is not known whether the relic of the 'True Cross' remains within the receptacle.  On the base is inscribed ‘Sister Lucrezia of Penna’ (SOROR LVCRETIA DE PENNA), the name of the nun who commissioned the reliquary.

Sam Fogg says: ‘I am delighted that this beautiful and intriguing work should find a permanent home among the Ashmolean Museum's world-class collections of Renaissance decorative arts.  This gift acknowledges the outstanding commitment of the Museum to research, publication and teaching.’

Edward Harley OBE, Chairman, Acceptance in Lieu Panel, says: ‘I am pleased to announce this generous gift to the Ashmolean, which will join its extensive holdings of Renaissance metalwork and sculpture. The reliquary raises exciting questions for scholarship, including the role of female patrons, the artistic patronage of religious houses, and the interplay of flat art and statuary in the Italian Renaissance.  It is in itself a work of great beauty and skilful craftsmanship, and this donation is further evidence of the increasingly important role of the Cultural Gifts Scheme in bolstering public collections in this country.’

Arts Minister, Rebecca Pow, says: ‘The Cultural Gifts Scheme benefits museums and galleries all over the country.  I am delighted that this beautiful 16th-century Italian treasure will now join the Ashmolean Museum's collection in Oxford where it will be enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people every year.’




Claire Parris, Press Officer | T+44 (0)1865 278 178 | M+44 (0)7833 384 512 | @AshmoleanPress

Sarah Holland, Press Assistant | T+44 (0)1865 278 285



An image for editorial use is available to download at

Object information / caption:
Unknown artists
Reliquary of the Holy Cross
c. 1510–30
Northern Italian, possibly from Padua
Copper-gilt, 22.5 x 10.5 x 10 cm
Photo: Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford



The Cultural Gifts Scheme was launched by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport in March 2013 as an important element of its expanding programme to encourage philanthropy for the arts. The Acceptance in Lieu Panel, chaired by Edward Harley, advises Ministers on all objects offered under the Cultural Gifts Scheme. The Scheme is administered by the Arts Council and enables UK taxpayers to donate important objects to the nation during their lifetime. Items accepted under the Scheme are allocated to public collections and are available for all. In return, donors will receive a reduction in their income tax, capital gains tax or corporation tax liability, based on a set percentage of the value of the object they are donating: 30 per cent for individuals and 20 per cent for companies.

The acceptance of the reliquary will generate a tax reduction of £16,000.


The Arts Council is the national development body for arts and culture across England, working to enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to visual art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2018 and 2022, we will invest £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.