St James the Less
- Place of origin:
15th century (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
This alabaster statuette representing St. James the Less was made in the 15th century England. The statuette was previously in the church of St. Cathering, Hoogstaten, province of Antwerp and purchased in Brussels.
The carving of alabaster, mostly quarried in Tutbury and Chellaston near Nottingham, took on industrial proportions in England between the middle of the 14th and the early 16th centuries. The market for altarpieces and smaller devotional images was a large one. It included not only religious foundations but also the merchant classes. Many hundreds of English alabasters were exported, some as far afield as Iceland and Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.
Alabaster - a form of gypsum - is a comparatively soft material and is therefore easy to carve. It can also be polished. Its natural colour was especially useful for the representation of faces and flesh, which would normally remain unpainted. The finished alabaster panels in altarpieces of this type were fixed into position in the wooden frame by means of lead wires. They were embedded in the backs of the panels, fed through holes in the frame and secured.
The saint is haloed and bearded. In his left hand he holds a scroll now illegible but formerly inscribed with those words of the Apostles' Creed traditionally attributed to him: [Sanc]TAM EC[clesiam catholicam] [s]AN[ctorum com]MUNIONE[m] (The holy Catholic Church and the communion of saints). His index finger is extended across the scroll. In his right hand he holds a staff or club, the pointed end of which rests on the ground. He is wearing a robe with a cord round the waist. A cloak is draped from his shoulders over his arms. His eyelids are carved.
The top section of the scroll is missing in the lower part of the panel. The halo is chipped. The top of the staff or club is missing. The saint's right foot and nose are damaged. No paint remains.
The back of the figure bears two holes. The bottom has been cut away. The back has a roughly chiselled surface.
Place of Origin
15th century (made)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 76 cm, Width: 27.7 cm
Object history note
Previously in the church of St. Catherine, Hoogstraten, province of Antwerp. Purchased from A. Arens, Brussels in 1920.
Alabaster statuette depicting St James the Less. English, 15th century.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Cheetham, Francis. English Medieval Alabasters. Oxford: Phaidon-Christie's Limited, 1984. p. 110 (cat. 39), ill. ISBN 0-7148-8014-0
Victoria and Albert Museum. Review of the Principal Acquisitions during the Year 1920, 1924. pp. 8, 9, pl. 2.
Victoria and Albert Museum. A Picture Book of English Alabaster Carvings, 1925. pl. 10.
Victoria and Albert Museum. English Medieval Art (exhibition catalogue), 1930. no. 591.
Derveaux-van Ussel, G. Exposition de Sculptures anglaises et malinoises d'Albâtre (exhibition catalogue). Brussels: Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, 1967. no. E/47.
Steppe, Jan. Het Koordoksaal in de Nederlanden. Brussels, 1952. p. 130. pl. 52.
Scroll; Staff; Cloak; Halo; Club; Robe
Christianity; Religion; Sculpture