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Alexian Nun

  • Object:

    Ecclesiastical figure

  • Place of origin:

    France (possibly, made)
    Germany (possibly, made)
    Netherlands (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    first half 19th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Figure made of tow and wax, dressed in linen and woollen materials.

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mr. G. Smith

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This figure is one of a set of 50 dressed to represent the outfits worn by Catholic religious orders. They are made of tow (hemp) with wax heads, hands and feet. They were probably made in France, as they are labelled in French, but some of the orders represented were only active in Germany and the Netherlands.

This figure represents an Alexian nun. The Alexians were founded as a male order in the fourteenth century, devoting their lives to care for the sick. Although recognised in 1469 as a religious order by Louis de Bourbon, Prince-Bishop of Liège (1438-92), the Alexians were not formally confirmed until 1870. In the fifteenth century, nuns began to be affiliated to the Alexian Brotherhood, also dedicating their lives to care for the sick. The Alexian order founded many hospitals, and remains strong today. The Alexian nuns, who are also known as Cellitines, wear a simple black tunic, scapular, and veil with a white wimple. The wide tunic sleeves can be rolled back over close-fitting undersleeves to enable tending of the sick. The black habits led to the Cellitines becoming popularly known as "Black Sisters" or Soeurs Noire.

Physical description

Figure made of wax and tow, dressed in linen and woollen fabrics.
Black tunic and scapular, white wimple, white veil

Place of Origin

France (possibly, made)
Germany (possibly, made)
Netherlands (possibly, made)


first half 19th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Figure made of tow and wax, dressed in linen and woollen materials.


Height: 31 cm including stand

Object history note

One of a group of 50 figures given to the Educational Department by Mr. G. Smith of St John's Wood in 1868, but only formally accessioned in 1905. The labels on the bases are in French but some of the orders represented (e.g the Alexians and the Order of the Conception) seem to have been confined to Germany and the Low Countries. (from original acquisition record for 1905)

Descriptive line

Wax and tow figure dressed as an Alexian nun or Soeur Noire

Production Note

Labelled in French; some of the orders represented confined to Germany or the Netherlands.


Wax; Tow; Linen; Wool (textile)


Religion; Christianity; Ecclesiastical textiles; Dolls & Toys; Clothing; Europeana Fashion Project


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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