St. John the Baptist’s tooth is at the Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago’s collection has the tooth of St. John the Baptist. (Supposedly.)

I came across this post through my Art Institute custom feed on BlueSky.

What’s that? BlueSky is one of the Twitter alternatives out there. Right now, it’s my favorite alternative. One of the cool things about BlueSky is the ability to make custom feeds. If you don’t like the mysterious algorithms that other social media platforms use… then with BlueSky you can make your own algorithm. It’s not really even an algorithm. It’s just a fancy search field.

I made a feed that searches for any post with the phrase “Art Institute” AND “Chicago.” If a post contains those two phrases, then it automatically gets included in the feed.

Looking at this feed, you get a nice range of posts people make. Including the tooth of the John the Baptist.

Why isn’t this tooth venerated? That is, why hasn’t the Roman Catholic Church acknowledged this as an actual tooth from John the Baptist? I don’t know why, but maybe it’s due to the extremely lengthy provenance.

Please do not read this quoted text block. I only paste it in to show the length. After this quoted text block, I continue my thoughts. Please do read those.

The collegiate church of Saint Blaise, Braunschweig [no. 78 in the 1482 inventory of the relic treasure; see Boockmann 1997, pp. 33-34, 143 identifying it with the monstrance made for Saint Blasius by Wedegho Velstede in 1433], remaining there along with other treasure objects after the congregation abolished the Catholic service in 1540; Saint Blaise being under the direct patronage of the dukes of Braunschweig-Lüneburg, 1962.91 was given, together with the bulk of the church’s relic treasure to Duke Johann Friedrich (died 1679) in 1671 as part of a settlement among members of the ducal family [see Jaitner 1986 [1987], pp. 391-92]; by descent in the Hannover branch of the ducal family of Braunschweig-Lüneburg and preserved with the rest of the treasure in the court chapel of the Leineschloss, Hannover; temporarily removed for safe-keeping during the Seven Years War ( from 1757-64) and the Napoleonic Wars (removed 1803-1816) [Jaitner 1986 [1987], p. 393]; in 1862 installed in the Welfenmuseum in the Altenburg-Palais, Hannover, founded by King George V of Hannover (died 1878) [Hannover became a kingdom at the Congress of Vienna 1814/15; for the foundation of the museum, whose name evoked the medieval glory of the Welf or Guelph dynasty, see Jaitner 1986 [1987], pp. 393-98 and de Winter 1985, p. 13]; in 1867, following the annexation of the kingdom of Hannover by Prussia, moved with the bulk of the treasure to the exiled former king’s villa in Hietzing near Vienna; deposited at the Österreichisches Museum für Kunst und Industrie, Vienna, 1869 to 1906 [Jaitner 1986 [1987], pp. 402, 420 n. 59–the former king was styled duke of Cumberland];1906 sent to the duke of Cumberland’s palace in Penzing on the outskirts of Vienna and in 1920 to Schloss Cumberland in Gmunden, Austria [Jaitner 1986 [1987], p. 404]; in November 1927, the treasure was deposited with a bank in Aarau, Switzerland; at the end of 1929 under Ernst August III as head of the house of Hannover, the treasure was sold to a consortium of Frankfurt dealers: Julius Falk Goldschmidt of the firm I. S. Goldscmidt, Zacharias Max Hackenbroch, and Isaak Rosenbaum and Saemy Rosenbaum of the firm J. Rosenbaum [see De Winter 1985, p. 133; Jaitner 1986 (1987), p. 415 gives January 6, 1930 as the conclusion of the transaction]; they sold 1962.91 to Mrs. Chauncey McCormick, née Marion Deering, in January, 1931; on loan to the museum from 1931 [receipt R. 4806 of April 24, 1931 in Registrar’s office]; given to the museum in 1962.

I won’t even comment about things getting venerated and how they edge into the world of idolatry. But I’ll admit. Even now, I’d like to go to the Art Institute of Chicago and see this in person. More for the novelty of it.

If you do see this tooth in person, it sits in Gallery 236. On display in this room are 54 other religious artworks. I’ve never really noticed these artworks in person. Interesting how when you view them online, they become more curious than when you see them in person. In all my visits to the Art Institute, I would just walk right by these items.

Another crazy old artwork in the Art Institute’s collection

For instance sitting in Gallery 236 is “Head of an Apostle” from Notre Dame in Paris. Wait. Notre Dame! Maybe when at the museum, I should be reading the captions of the artworks more closely.

Head of an Apostle” about 1210 from Art Institute of Chicago

How in the world does a sculpture from Notre Dame end up in Chicago? The description states:

Medieval sculpture from Notre-Dame was purposefully damaged in the 1790s during the French Revolution because of its presumed royal associations. Fragments of some of the sculpture removed at the order of the revolutionary tribunal were buried out of a lingering respect for its tradition and quality, to be rediscovered in later years.

Something is broken off a church in a war, buried, and then discovered… that allows a museum in another country to keep it? Wouldn’t it belong to Notre Dame? Or maybe after all these years, Notre Dame doesn’t want it back?

This sculpture was bought by the Art Institute in 1944, for $35,000. In 2024 dollars, that would be $613,329.26. Back in the day, the museum paid big bucks for this. I’m surprised we don’t hear more about it. Especially since Notre Dame burned down in 2019.

However, over the years, this sculpture has appeared in lots of publications.

DecadeNumber of publications
The last year this artwork was published was in 2008. Thus, 16 years of no mentions. That’s odd. I guess people lost interest in this sculpture.

Well, I’m writing about this now, so that’s kinda something.

In fact, this artwork sits in Google’s Arts & Culture site.

You can have Google’s AI write a poem postcard about this sculpture. Google allows you to set some parameters for how this poem is written.

  1. You get to pick the style poem. Haiku, Free Verse, Sonnet, Villanelle, Limerick, Ode, Elegy, or Ballad.
  2. You get to pick a topic. Any topic. You can type whatever you want in.

I chose the style limerick and the topic baseball.

Here’s the poem it wrote about the Notre Dame apostle head sculpture and baseball as a limerick:

There once was a head of an apostle,
Made of stone by French, in Paris.
It watched the baseball game,
With a look of great shame,
As the home team lost, by a mile.

Does this count as another 2024 publication for this sculpture?

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