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Statuettes - Statuettes of St Barbara and Saint Catherine of Alexandria
  • Statuettes of St Barbara and Saint Catherine of Alexandria
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Statuettes of St Barbara and Saint Catherine of Alexandria

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Brussels (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1490 to 1500 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Walnut, painted and gilded

  • Museum number:

    192A, B-1866

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10, case 1 []

These two wooden figures of Sts Barbara and Catherine came into the V&A during the 19th century as part of an altarpiece thought to have come from St Andrew's church, Klausen, near Brixen (today Bressanone, Italy) in South Tyrol. But during the 1930s it was discovered that they were not actually originally related to the altarpiece, and were therefore removed from it.

The two figures actually originate from Brussels, rather than the Tyrol, and were produced in about 1500. They are very similar to surviving figures which have the mark 'BRVESEL' stamped on their base, and are typical of a type of production which became very popular during the later 15th century. The remains of what might be the Brussels mallet mark remain on the top of St Catherine's head.

St Barbara holds her traditional attribute of the tower in which she was imprisoned by her father, while St Catherine tramples on the figure of her persecutor, the Roman emperor Maxentius, and the remains of the wheel on which she was tortured.

The carved figures from Brussels were used as individual devotional images, or set into small altarpieces, or "house altars", with painted wings. Two complete examples survive with figures of Sts Catherine and Barbara flanking the Virgin and Child - the two female saints were evidently popular with consumers. Nearby Malines also became a centre of production for carved and painted wooden figures in the early 16th century. These were strongly influenced by the Brussels style.

Physical description

Two walnut figures, painted and gilded. They are very similar in their physical type: both have symmetrical rounded faces, with small, neat features, and slightly heavy eye-lids. Their hair is golden, and worn loose; it is formed from individual gilded curls. Both wear the typical circlet head-dresses common to many Netherlandish carved figures of this period, made up of twisted ribbon and large pearls, with a plain layer covering the head. Both figures hold books with tiny stylised writing, and both figures have punched decoration to the border of their gold mantles.
Both figures have suffered wood worm damage. The central section of their backs has been left largely uncarved and unpainted, showing that they were intended to be viewed from the front and sides only. On the underside of both is a large plugged hole, and two smaller nail holes. It is possible that the larger holes were inserted to attach the two figures to the Brixen altarpiece (192-1866) in the 19th century, while the smaller holes are original.

Place of Origin

Brussels (made)


ca. 1490 to 1500 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Walnut, painted and gilded


Height: 35 cm of St Barbara, Height: cm of St Catherine of Alexandria

Object history note

These two figures were formerly associated with the Tirolese "Brixen Altarpiece" (192-1866), but were discovered in the 1930s not to be related, and therefore removed from it.
They were bought from Dr A Salviati in London in 1866 for £250, when mounted on the pilasters of the central corpus of the Brixen Altarpiece (192-1866). A photograph of 1922 shows the figure of St Barbara (192A-1866) on the right console, and St Catherine (192B-1866) attached to the left pilaster. These two figures were, according to R. P. Bedford, Deputy Keeper in the Department of Sculpture, classified as "Brussels, about 1500" in 1932 and were consequently removed (Sculpture Department records, and Williamson 2002).

Historical context note

Carved wooden figures of saints were made in Brussels in some numbers in the later 15th century. They were usually set into small altarpieces ('house altars') with painted wings. Two complete examples of similar altarpieces (of Malines manufacture) survive with figures of St Catherine and St Barbara flanking the Virgin and Child (Williamson 2002) - these were obviously a popular choice with consumers.
Malines, which became a centre of production in the early 16th century, also produced many carved and painted wooden figures of a similar size to these examples. These were strongly influenced by the Brussels style.

Descriptive line

Statuettes, St Barbara and St Catherine of Alexandria, painted and gilded walnut, Brussels, ca. 1490-1500

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

P. Williamson, Netherlandish Sculpture 1450-1550 , London (V&A), 2002, cat. no. 33, pp. 116-7

Production Note

It is pretty certain that these figures were made in Brussels in the late 15th century, by comparison with other very similar figures which have the mark 'BRVESEL' stamped on their base (Williamson 2002).


Walnut; Gilt; Paint


Carved; Gilded; Painted


Religion; Sculpture; Christianity


Sculpture Collection

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