Height: 60.500 cm
Room 40: Medieval Europe
Alabaster panel showing the signs of the Last Judgement
Medieval, about AD 1420-60
In the Middle Ages it was believed that the Last Judgement would be preceded by fifteen signs of its coming. They derived from Revelation, the last book of the Bible, and the teachings of St Jerome, and were itemized in the Golden Legend of Jacopo da Voragine (died 1298). This thirteenth-century text was second only to the Bible in popularity and its imagery influenced many medieval works of art.
This alabaster panel depicts the tenth sign of the Last Judgement, which describes how men will emerge from caves where they have retreated, unable to speak and out of their senses. Other apocalyptical signs included the rising and falling of the sea, earthquakes, stars falling from the sky and Heaven and Earth burning. The thirteenth sign, where all the living shall die, is illustrated by another alabaster held by The British Museum.
The angel hovering beneath an architectural canopy holds a scroll that would have carried an inscription (now lost) explaining the significance of the scene. Traces of coloured paints survive, as a reminder that alabasters were originally highly coloured, decorative works of art.
P. Nelson, 'A Doom reredos', Transactions of the Historic S, 34 (1919), pp. 67-71
J. de Voragine (translated by W. Granger Ryan), The golden legend: readings on (Princeton University Press, 1993)
J. Robinson, Masterpieces: Medieval Art (London, British Museum Press, 2008)
F. Cheetham, English medieval alabasters (Oxford, Phaidon-Christie's, 1984)