Amitha's Blog

Art, Pray, Love: Ex-Votos as Objets d’Art

Stunning collection of ex-votos via Veranda, November 2007

Growing up, I was fascinated by a book my Dad used to have in his waiting room, which I used to look at any and every time I was in his office. It was devoted to art inspired by the heart, which was very fitting as he is a heart doctor.

On the cover, I remember, was a beautiful object which I did not recognize at the time, but was intrigued by nonetheless. Later, I found out that the object was an ex-voto.

You’ve probably seen one of these too and wondered what its significance was.

An ex-voto is or was an offering to God in a material form. These objects are given in fulfillment of a vow, or in gratitude or devotion – like a personal thank you note to God. Ex-votos are designed to be placed in a church or chapel where the worshipper seeks grace or wishes to give thanks. In many cases, they are signed and dated, with an explanation of why the giver is offering thanks.

This tradition began in Italy in the 15th century – that’s why you so often find ex-votos in French and European decor. Rich patrons would commission artists to paint miracles that they wished for or that they had been granted.

These artistic objects are very personal, but also quite public expressions of faith in God and thanks for blessings received – which makes their history really quite fascinating.

Ex-votos come in many forms, from candles to paintings and metal objects. My favorites are the heart-inspired ex-votos, which are often made in silver or gold and encrusted with jewels.

French antique silver ex-voto

Ex-votos, in all their different forms, were designed for worshippers who wanted to give thanks. But they also served as testimony to visitors who came later, to show that guidance or blessings had been bestowed. They embodied a perfect triangle of emotion – faith, love and beauty.

Like so many of my inspirations, these pieces are bound up with the religious tradition and history of Europe. The ex-votos would often be collected at a shrine where pilgrims would gather to pray, so everyone could see these very tangible symbols of devotion. Even today, collections of ex-votos can be seen at famous sites like the church at Montmartre in Paris.

From a design point of view, the ex-voto holds endless possibilities. I love the idea of collecting lots of these beautiful objects, and creating a lovely showcase. Can’t you just imagine these in shadow box frames and turned into an art gallery? Wow, that would be so gorgeous!

I love this ex-voto grouped together with gilt fragments in this glass box – what a great way to showcase all the little accessories we love to collect!

Whenever I travel, I’m always on the hunt for these, as they are very hard to find. Even at our own shop, these are the only ones we have right now.

It’s funny how something that inspired me so much as a little girl still does today. That’s the beauty in antiques and one-of-a-kind pieces with a story. They leave a meaningful impression on you and inspire you for years to come.

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