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The Crucifixion

  • Object:

    Panel

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1470-1490 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved, painted and gilt alabaster

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dr W. L. Hildburgh FSA

  • Museum number:

    A.105-1946

  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 111, The Gilbert Bayes Gallery, case 7

This is an alabaster panel, depicting the Crucifixion, made in England in about 1470-1490. Christ, crucified on a cross in the centre of the panel, dominates the scene completely. Four angels catch the blood from his wounds in chalices, while close by are two crucified thieves. Christ’s mother, Mary, seen on the bottom left, eyes cast down, crosses her arms in front of her body.

There are two sorts of alabaster. Calcite alabaster is very hard and was used in ancient times. This object is made of gypsum alabaster which is a fine-grained, soft and smooth stone. Although at first glance it looks a little like marble, which it was intended to imitate, it was much easier to carve due to its softness, and alabaster objects were therefore significantly cheaper to produce. Marble does not originate in England, so it was imported if needed.
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.

Physical description

The haloed and bearded Christ, wearing the torse and naked but for the loincloth, is shown on the cross, his head inclined to his right, his right foot over his left. There are the curious anatomical bulges below Christ's ribs characteristic of some later Crucifixions. Angels hold chalices to receive the blood from the wounds in his hands. The head only of the nail in the left hand is shown, in the right hand more of the nail appears to be showing. At his feet two kneeling angels hold a chalice to catch the streaming blood, which is represented by a carved strip. Longinus stands on the left of the panel, looking up at Christ and holding the spear which made the wound in his side. The bearded centurion, wearing a high-crowned hat and a long, belted gown, with a cloak over his shoulders, stands on the right of the panel. With his left hand he holds a staff the end of which rests on the ground. In his right hand he holds a vertical scroll which rises to the top of the panel under Christ's arm and which no doubt was previously inscribed, 'Vere Filius Dei erat iste.' A soldier with a spear rests his left hand on the centurion's shoulder. The Virgin, veiled with a cloak fastened by a brooch, kneels on the left of the panel, her hands crossed on her breast. She is supported by Mary Magdalene and Mary Cleophas. Behind the group stands the beardless figure of St. John the Evangelist, his emblem, the palm, over his right shoulder. In the background of the panel on the right and left of Christ, the smaller figures of the good and the unrepentant thief, both naked but for short drawers, hang on crosses by their arms. Three more helmeted soldiers stand across the back of the panel. Longinus' spear is broken and there is a repaired break across the centre of the panel. The angel by Christ's left arm is badly damaged. Christ's hands are damaged. Green paint and the usual daisy pattern remain on the ground at the bottom of the panel. Traces of red paint remain elsewhere, mainly in the folds of the garments and on the angels' wings. There are traces of gilding on the upper background and on Christ's hair and beard. The panel has been backed with alabaster and with plaster.

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

1470-1490 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved, painted and gilt alabaster

Dimensions

Height: 54.8 cm, Width: 30.1 cm

Object history note

In the possession of P. Nelson. Acquired by Dr W.L. Hildburgh from him. On loan from Dr Hildburgh since 1926. Given by Dr Hildburgh in 1946.

Descriptive line

Panel, alabaster, depicting the Crucifixion, England, 1470-1490

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

Cheetham, Francis. English Medieval Alabasters. Oxford: Phaidon-Christie's Limited, 1984. p. 256 (cat. 183), ill. ISBN 0-7148-8014-0
Burlington Magazine Dec. 1946, p. 292, pl. IIB.

Materials

Alabaster; Paint; Gilt

Techniques

Carving; Painting; Gilding

Subjects depicted

Angel; Torse; Soldier; Nail; Chalice; Spear; Veil; Halo; Hat; Brooch; Loincloth; Palm; Cross; Scroll; Cloak; Staff; Helmet

Categories

Christianity; Religion; Sculpture

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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