12th Century: So-called bag of King Stephen of Hungary

So-called bag of King Stephen of Hungary

Reliquary Pouch, Russian, 2nd half of the 11th / 12th century

Item link page at Vienna Art History Museum

Textile; Silk, linen, gold thread embroidery, silk embroidery, silver, gilded, topaz, pearls, garnets, glass stones / embroidered

H. 15.5 cm, W. 13.5 cm


Older tradition linked the origin of this richly embroidered bag to the person of the first Christian king of Hungary, Stephen (Istv├ín) I (around 969 – 1038). According to current knowledge, the phonetic image and the orthography of the texts embroidered on the front and back in Cyrillic script indicate that textile work emerged in Russia after the middle of the 11th century, so that the bag was previously used at best to store relics from 1083 canonized ruler may have served. The actual function of the pocket-shaped container at the time of its creation has not yet been determined. An original liturgical purpose seems obvious due to the psalm texts embroidered on the back, which are known from the liturgy of the Greek rite. However, direct comparison examples are missing. The bag owes its outstanding position among the medieval works of the spiritual treasury to the fact that it is one of the oldest surviving monuments of Russian embroidery art. The front is entirely covered by gold embroidery, which encloses various medallions with colored figures in silk embroidery. Christ is enthroned in the middle, surrounded by the four archangels, a seraph and a cherub as well as Saints Basil and Nicholas. The back shows a red silk fabric into which a cross and the above-mentioned inscriptions are embroidered with gold and red, yellow and green silk. The overall effect of the embroidery, which corresponds to works of goldsmith or mosaic art, is of an exceptionally high level: there are almost 700 stitches on one square centimeter. This suggests that it was created in an important artistic center, such as one of the great Russian monasteries. The bag probably only received its current closure at the bottom edge with a metal rod and the large topaz attached, as well as the small cross made of garnets on top, in the 17th century.


Currently issued:Imperial Treasury ViennaRoom II

IMAGE RIGHTS Vienna Art History Museum, Spiritual Treasury

INV. NO. Treasury, GS Chapter 186

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