- Museum number
Alabaster figure of the Virgin and Child, probably sculpted in the English Midlands. The standing Virgin is shown crowned as Queen of Heaven and holds in her left hand a flowering branch representative of the rod of Aaron. Christ is seated in her right arm and is turned at a quarter angle from the viewer. He holds a golden orb or apple in his right hand and touches the Virgin's chest with his other. There are traces of red and green polychromy, and substantial gilding across the sculpture. The reverse of the sculpture is uncarved although there various tool marks and vertical lines left from the process of sawing the raw alabaster.
- Production date
Height: 75 centimetres
Width: 25 centimetres
Depth: 10.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- This large alabaster Virgin and Child is in remarkably good condition and is unusual in having suffered no major breakages. Even rarer is the survival of large portions of the original polychromy, including gilding and imitation jewels which decorate the chest of the Virgin. On stylistic grounds and through comparison with continental sculpture it can be dated to between 1350-75. This places the statue at the very beginning of the period when alabaster began being used as a luxury material for sculptural compositions. The raw material was quarried in Derbyshire and Staffordshire and there is sufficient evidence to suggest that many of the early workers of the stone were based in the Midlands. The condition and technical finesse of this figure represents the highest levels of English sculpture in alabaster.
The early artists who worked alabaster in the Midlands attracted the attention of King Edward III who in 1363 ordered a carved alabaster altarpiece from Peter the Maceon of Nottingham. These sculptures from the King’s chapel at Windsor, along with the majority of comparable pieces in situ were destroyed during the English Reformation. The Virgin and Child may have survived by being exported to the continent at this time or possibly it was sold abroad when it was first made in the 14th century. It therefore provides a precious insight into what other early important commissions might have looked like. The sculpture is also an impressive example of the intense English devotion to the Virgin Mary during the fourteenth century. The alabaster Virgin and Child is representative of the origins of an industry that grew into the largest artistic export trade from England. Over two centuries the work of sculptors based in the Midlands became desirable across Latin Christendom. The export of alabaster from England in the Middle Ages is comparable with the development and trade of English embroidery, known internationally during the period as Opus Anglicanum.
The earliest reference to the sculpture places it the Redemptorist monastery, Saint Truiden, Limberg, Belgium, by 1864. It was acquired by Dr Albert Figdor of Vienna before 1890, and was sold at his posthumous collection sale by the Paul Cassirer gallery in Berlin 29/30 September 1930, vol.IV, lot 142 where it was illustrated as plate 77. It was acquired at that sale by a European noble family and passed down by descent until it was sold on the family’s behalf by Sotheby’s, London on the 10th December 2015, lot 323. The sculpture which was then covered in a dark varnish was purchased by Sam Fogg from whom the British Museum acquired it in 2016.
W. H. J. Weale, Instrumenta ecclesiastica, Brussels (1866), no. 10;
J. Helbig, La sculpture et les arts plastiques au pays du Liège et sur les bords de la Meuse, Bruges (1890), p. 119, pl. XVII;
J. Destrée, Annales de la Société d'archéologie de Bruxelles, vol. 23 (1909), p. 456, fig. 7;
P. Clemen and J. Baum, Belgische Kunstdenkmäler, Munich (1923), vol. I, fig. 153;
W. L. Hildburgh, 'Further notes on English alabaster carvings', in Antiquaries Journal, X (1930), p. 43;
Illustrated London News (September 1930), illustrated;
W. L. Hildburgh, 'Medieval English alabaster figures of the Virgin and Child - I: Our Lady standing', in The Burlington Magazine, LXXXVIII (1946), p. 32, pl. G;
F. Cheetham, English Medieval Alabasters; With a Catalogue of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Oxford (1984), p. 191;
F. Cheetham, Alabaster Images of Medieval England, Woodbridge (2003), p. 89, no. 5;
K. Land, Die englischen Alabastermadonnen des Spaten Mittelaters, Dusseldorf (2011), pp.402-404.
- On display (G40/dc14/sB)
- Exhibition history
(Has Mount - wooden block)
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number