The artifact has been in the Met’s collection for over a century.
Reliquary bust of Saint Yrieix (ca. 1220–40). Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan to the Met in 1917. Public domain.
A commune in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France is asking for the restitution of an 11th-century reliquary bust that has been in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York since 1917.
Last Wednesday, January 10, Daniel Boisserie, mayor of the small town of Saint-Yrieix-La-Perche in west-central France, sent a letter to the Met via the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, and the French Embassy in the United States, officially asking for the return of the artifact: A gold and silver, jewel-encrusted bust of Saint Yrieix, which once contained the skull bones of the saint. The Met has not yet responded to our request for comment on the matter, but a town spokesperson told artnet News that the museum has yet to receive an answer from the Met’s management.
Saint Yrieix, also known as Saint Aredius, founded a monastery in the region during the sixth century, and gave the town, which today counts 7,000 inhabitants, its name. The French newspaper La Montagne reports that according to a recent book by local historians Philippe Grandcoing and Vincent Brousse, titled La belle époque des pilleurs d’églises (The Beautiful Era of Church Looters), the original bust is thought to have left Saint-Yrieix in 1906, sold and replaced with a copy by the parish priest at the time.