Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Height: 22.200 cm (of
Height: 22.200 cm (of tabernacle)
Bequeathed by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild
P&E Waddesdon Bequest 233
Room 45: Waddesdon Bequest
Miniature tabernacle, carved in boxwood
The Netherlands, around AD 1500-30
This elaborate tabernacle was designed as a portable object of private devotion. It is an outstanding example of the minutely detailed, small-scale works of art that were owned by nobles or wealthy merchants in northern Europe during this period. Such objects were highly prized as masterpieces of carving and invention.
The tabernacle is set in a Gothic architectural framework. It consists of several sections which come apart to reveal in astonishing detail scenes from the Life and Passion of Christ. The finial at the top is of the Pelican in Piety, symbolic of the sacrifice of Christ. It lifts off and four petals beneath unfold to recount Christ's childhood. A three-dimensional figure of the Virgin and Child rises within the centre, turned by a ratchet.
The two-part central sphere is hinged, the upper half carved on the exterior with scenes framed by Gothic balustrading and crockets. Within, it contains two doors carved with further scenes on the inner and outer leaves, which open to reveal the Crucifixion carved in high relief. The interior of the lower half contains relief scenes relating to the Resurrection. The hexagonal stem, with alternating scenes and delicate openwork tracery, lifts off to reveal three further scenes carved in high relief.
The carrying case is made of cuir bouilli (boiled leather), mounted with gold filigree and stamped with floral designs. It also bears the badges and coats of arms of Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor and as King of Spain.
C.H. Read, The Waddesdon Bequest: Catalog (, 1902)
H. Tait, The Waddesdon Bequest: the leg (, 1981)