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St Eligius shoes a horse

  • Object:

    Panel

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1440-1460 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved and painted alabaster

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dr W. L. Hildburgh FSA

  • Museum number:

    A.121-1946

  • Gallery location:

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

This panel illustrates the legend of St Eligius (died 660), a French bishop who began his career as a goldsmith. He once shoed a horse by cutting its leg off, before miraculously sticking it back on. Almost all of the background is adorned with the usual stylised flower pattern.

The saint, wearing a bishop's mitre, stands on the left-hand side of the panel, his head inclined to the right. He wears an alb under a cloak fastened with a brooch. He holds a severed horse's leg on top of the anvil with his left hand and hammers a shoe onto the hoof with his right. The haft of another hammer is slotted into a holder beneath the anvil and two more hammers lie on the ground in front of the horse. Below the anvil, at the front of the panel, there is a trough of water containing what appear to be metal rods. A damaged figure stands behind the saint at the top left of the panel and appears to be pulling on a lever with his left hand to work the bellows at the back of the smithy. To the right of the saint are the hearth and chimney of the forge. Under a roof supported by wooden posts and beams a man stands behind a horse; he looks down at it, his hands held apart in surprise. He wears a flat cap and a tunic. The horse, its left front leg removed and held by the saint, is tied to a post by a rope round its head; it looks out of the panel. On its back is a saddle with a stirrup attached. Above, four horse-shoes hang on nails on the roofbeam.

The top left-hand corner and the bottom right-hand corner of the panel are chipped. The horse's nose is broken. The head of the figure standing behind the saint is missing. The panel retains much paint, especially the brown on the structure of the blacksmith's workshop and the green background with the characteristic daisy pattern. The anvil and the trough are black; the pedestal supporting the anvil is brown. The horse is piebald, with a red wound showing where the front leg was severed. The back of the panel has been scooped out in a rough way, presumably to reduce the weight. There are four lead-plugged holes. The bottom has been cut away.

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 saint, wearing a bishop's mitre, stands on the left-hand side of the panel, his head inclined to the right. He wears an alb under a cloak fastened with a brooch. He holds a severed horse's leg on top of the anvil with his left hand and hammers a shoe onto the hoof with his right. The haft of another hammer is slotted into a holder beneath the anvil and two more hammers lie on the ground in front of the horse. Below the anvil, at the front of the panel, there is a trough of water containing what appear to be metal rods. A damaged figure stands behind the saint at the top left of the panel and appears to be pulling on a lever with his left hand to work the bellows at the back of the smithy. To the right of the saint are the hearth and chimney of the forge. Under a roof supported by wooden posts and beams a man stands behind a horse; he looks down at it, his hands held apart in surprise. He wears a flat cap and a tunic. The horse, its left front leg removed and held by the saint, is tied to a post by a rope round its head; it looks out of the panel. On its back is a saddle with a stirrup attached. Above, four horse-shoes hang on nails on the roofbeam.

The top left-hand corner and the bottom right-hand corner of the panel are chipped. The horse's nose is broken. The head of the figure standing behind the saint is missing. The panel retains much paint, especially the brown on the structure of the blacksmith's workshop and the green background with the characteristic daisy pattern. The anvil and the trough are black; the pedestal supporting the anvil is brown. The horse is piebald, with a red wound showing where the front leg was severed. The back of the panel has been scooped out in a rough way, presumably to reduce the weight. There are four lead-plugged holes. The bottom has been cut away.

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, whereas in the 15th century there were important alabaster quarries in Nottingham, York, Burton-on-Trent and London. England was a major centre for the production of objects such as this one. During period, they were exported in very large numbers to Europe where they survive, unlike many examples which remained in England and were destroyed or greatly damaged during the Reformation.

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

1440-1460 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved and painted alabaster

Dimensions

Height: 33 cm, Width: 21.3 cm

Object history note

Previously in Essen. In the possession of 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 St Eligius, made in England, 15th century

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

Cheetham, Francis. English Medieval Alabasters. Oxford: Phaidon-Christie's Limited, 1984. p. 99 (cat. 28), ill. ISBN 0-7148-8014-0
Breeze, Andrew. 'Chaucer, St. Loy and the Celts' in Reading Medieval Studies XVII, 1991, pp. 103-20, esp. p. 114 and pl. II.

Materials

Alabaster; Paint

Techniques

Carving; Painting

Subjects depicted

Alb; Brooch; Hammer; Cloak; Mitre; Tunic; Rope; Horse; Cap; Trough; Anvil

Categories

Christianity; Religion; Sculpture

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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