Plaquettes illustrating scenes from the life of Christ

Italy, about 1533-9

The revival of classical style in sixteenth-century Italy

The lead plaques record a set of designs illustrating Christ's Passion that Valerio Belli (about 1468-1546) made in rock crystal between 1533 and 1539. They were intended to decorate candlesticks, caskets and other altar furniture owned by Pope Paul III. The original rock crystal intaglios with these compositions, signed by Belli, survive. They probably decorated the base of a candlestick or the lid of a casket, which explains the shape of the lead copies.

The plaques were among a number of lead reliefs owned by the collector Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753). Signed pieces by Belli were known and admired in the eighteenth century and were copied and studied by scholars throughout Europe. Belli's rendering of Christian iconography in a classical style was particularly admired during the classical revival of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Engravings of Belli's designs were reproduced in two books on Italian art history. The designs were also copied in lead or in wax with gold foil on onyx or glass (see Other Views).

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Plaquettes illustrating scenes from the life of Christ

  • The Betrayal

    The Betrayal


More information


J.B.L.G. Séroux d'Agincourt, Storia dellarte dimostrati coi, vol. V (Prato, per I. Frat. Giachetti, 1828)

J.G. Pollard, 'The plaquette collections in the British Museum' in Italian plaquettes, Studies in the History of Art vol. 22 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1989), pp. 227-245

H. Burns, M. Collareta and D. Gasparotto (eds.), Valerio Belli Vicentino (Vicenza, Neri Pozza, 2000)

L.Cicognara, Storia della scultura, 2nd ed, vol. V (Prato, Frat. Giachetti, 1824)


Length: 11.800 cm (lead)
Length: 11.800 cm (lead)
Width: 10.000 cm

Museum number

M&ME SL 299.d;M&ME 1925.10-6.2


Sloane collection (lead plaque)
Wyndham Cook collection (onyx plaque)


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