The early Christian Martyrs Martian, Victory and Leonora: studies on three ceroplastic reliquaries from Portugal

Joana Palmeirão*, Margarida Nunes, Ana Manhita, Maria Coutinho, Eduarda Vieira, Teresa Ferreira*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


After the rediscovery of the Roman catacombs in 1578, thousands of skeletons attributed to the first martyrs of Christianity were massively exhumed from the subterranean galleries of Rome and displayed in sumptuous reliquaries, simulating the martyrs' bodies for public veneration in churches, convents, and oratories throughout the Christian world. Covered with silk, papier-mâché, plaster, wood or wax, the skeletons from the catacombs were splendidly dressed in ceremonial baroque clothes, representing Roman legionaries or virgins, and were exhibited with the signs of martyrdom inside polychromed and gilded wooden shrines. This type of devotional receptacles, as martyrs' simulacra, began to be produced in the late 17th century and were in use till the mid-19th century. In 2019-2020, an in-situ campaign was carried out to study three ceroplastic martyrs’ simulacra belonging to different Portuguese religious and cultural institutions. This was the first in-depth scientific study performed on simulacra reliquaries made of wax in Portugal. The focus of this project was to identify the materials and the manufacturing techniques adopted by pious craftsmen to unveil their complexity from material, technical and decorative points of view. Sampling of different materials was also carried out. Fibres, dyes, wax, and metal threads were analyzed for morphological and chemical characterization using a batch of analytical techniques that included optical microscopy (OM), attenuated total reflection Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (ATR-FT-IR), liquid chromatography coupled with diode-array detection and mass spectrometry (LC/DAD/MS), pyrolysis coupled to gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (Py-GC/MS) and scanning electron microscopy coupled with X-rays microanalysis (SEM/EDS). This work aims to present the analytical results on the simulacrum of saint Martian from the parish Church of saint Sebastian (Óbidos), and the simulacra of saints Victory and Eleonora from the Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy from the Palace of Marquis of Pombal (Oeiras). Despite their probable Roman origin, as many other 18th and 19th century martyrs' simulacra already identified in the north and centre of Portugal, the results obtained support a probable national production.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2022
EventinArt 2022 : 5th International Conference on Innovation in Art Research and Technology - Paris, Paris, France
Duration: 28 Jun 20221 Jul 2022


ConferenceinArt 2022
Internet address


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