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Panel relief - The Trinity

The Trinity

  • Object:

    Panel relief

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1480-1500 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Alabaster carved in relief with traces of paint and gilding

  • Credit Line:

    Given by J H Fitzhenry

  • Museum number:

    901-1907

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10, case 1

This panel shows the Trinity (God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit). The crowned and bearded figure of God the Father sits at the top of the panel holding a napkin containing three souls. Below him Christ on the cross represents God the Son. A hole above the napkin of souls would have held a dove, representing God the Holy Spirit. The central figures are flanked by six angels.

The Trinity was a popular subject in alabaster reliefs produced in England in the fifteenth century - over seventy examples survive today. Such reliefs could be used individually for private devotion. Robert Campin's painting of St Barbara (Prado, Madrid) shows a Trinity carving hanging above a domestic fireplace. But the height of this panel, which is taller than other examples, indicates that it was probably the central panel of an alabaster altarpiece. The Swansea Altarpiece (A.89-1919) is a good example of a complete altarpiece with the same central subject. The four lower angels in this panel, which catch Christ's blood in chalices, provide an obvious parallel for the celebration of the Mass, while the upper pair, swinging censers to release incense, would also fit well in an ecclesiastical context.

Physical description

The panel is rectangular and portrait-format. In the centre is the crowned and bearded figure of God the Father, with a painted halo and wearing a gown and cloak. He sits facing frontally, and raises his hands in a gesture of blessing, holding between them a napkin containing three heads, representing souls. Immediately above the souls is a hole, which would originally have held a dove signifying the Holy Spirit. Between the knees of God the Father is the bearded figure of Christ on the cross, wearing a torse and loin cloth. Below his feet, two angels hold a chalice to catch his blood. To either side of the cross hover two more angels, holding chalices under Christ's hands. A pair of angels, standing on brackets, also flank the figure of God the Father, holding censers. Their wings (like those of the pair below Christ's feet) are painted to resemble peacock feathers. The background of the lower part of the panel is painted in green with daisy motifs, as is the cross, while the upper part is gilded, with the remains of gesso relief decoration. The base of the panel has been cut to form a plain three-sided plinth.
The reverse of the panel is an uneven ridge down the centre, where the two saw cuts from each side met. There are four holes, and fragments of modern blue paper or card attached.

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

1480-1500 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Alabaster carved in relief with traces of paint and gilding

Dimensions

Height: 50.3 cm, Width: 27.1 cm, Depth: 4.7 cm, Weight: 8.84 kg

Object history note

Found in Italy, and given to V&A in 1905 by J. H. Fitzhenry, Esq.

Historical context note

Probably central panel from an altarpiece (see Swansea Altarpiece, A.89-1919 for similar arrangement). This particular type of Trinity iconography (defined by Cheetham as Group C) is a very typical fifteenth-century type, with more than 40 recorded examples surviving.

Descriptive line

Panel, alabaster, The Trinity, English, late 15th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Cheetham, Francis. English Medieval Alabasters. Oxford: Phaidon-Christies, 1984. p.302 (cat. 228) , ill. ISBN 0-7148-8014-0
List of Works of Art Acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in the Years 1905 - 1908. In: List of Works of Art Acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum, During the Year 1905, Arranged According to the Dates of Acquisition with Appendix and Indices. London: Printed for His Majesty's Stationery Office, by Eyre and Spottiswoode, Limited, 1909, p. 180

Materials

Alabaster; Paint; Gold

Techniques

Carving; Painting; Gilding; Relief

Subjects depicted

Trinity; Angels; Censers

Categories

Sculpture; Christianity; Religion

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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