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Panel - The Ascension

The Ascension

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    15th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved, painted and gilt alabaster

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dr W. L. Hildburgh FSA

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is an alabaster panel, representing the Ascnension and is made in England in the 15th century. This is the most common representation of the Ascension showing the lower part of Christ disappearing into a cloud watched by the Virgin and Apostles.

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 feet of Christ and the lower part of his gown are represented at the top of the panel, rising from a mound into a cloud, the border of which is decorated with triangles. The Virgin, crowned and wearing a gown and a cloak fastened with a brooch, kneels in front of the mound in the centre of the panel, facing right and looking upwards, her hands held apart. Behind her kneel two bearded apostles, hands held together in prayer, looking up at the disappearing figure of Christ. Two similar apostles kneel in prayer on the same side of the panel behind the mound, while another figure stands at the back of the panel, his left hand raised. On the right of the panel the tonsured St. Peter kneels facing the Virgin with the beardless figure of St. John the Evangelist behind him; three more bearded apostles are grouped round the mound and a fourth stands at the back of the panel, his right hand raised. All the figures except the one on the immediate left of the Virgin--who wears only a robe--wear long cloaks and robes. The panel is unusually wide.

The top corners of the panel are missing, including the head of an apostle on the left. The feet of Christ are also missing. The carving is weathered. There is a hole right through the panel near the right shoulder of St. Peter.

Green paint and the usual daisy pattern remain on the ground at the bottom of the panel. The background of the top of the panel bears traces of gilt and gesso knobs. Very little other paint remains. There are traces of gilding on the hair of some of the figures. The mound has traces of a reddish colour. The back of the panel bears four lead-plugged holes with traces of latten wires. The bottom has been cut away.

Place of Origin

England (made)


15th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved, painted and gilt alabaster


Height: 47.5 cm, Width: 36.7 cm

Object history note

Found in Chester. In the possession of E. Kirby. Acquired by P. Nelson from whom it was acquired by Dr W.L. Hildburgh. On loan from him since 1926. Given by Dr Hildburgh in 1946.

Descriptive line

Panel, alabaster, depicting the Ascension, England, 15th century

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

Cheetham, Francis. English Medieval Alabasters. Oxford: Phaidon-Christie's Limited, 1984. p. 291 (cat. 218), ill. ISBN 0-7148-8014-0


Alabaster; Paint; Gilt


Carving; Painting; Gilding

Subjects depicted

Robe; Brooch; Crown; Cloak; Gown


Christianity; Religion; Sculpture


Sculpture Collection

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