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Adoration of the Magi

  • Object:

    Fragment of a panel

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    second half 15th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved and painted alabaster

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dr W. L. Hildburgh FSA

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is an alabaster fragment from a panel depicting the adoration of the Magi, made in England in the second half of the 15th century. One of the kings is shown on the right hand side holding a cup which the baby Jesus reaches out to touch with his hand. The figure of St Joseph appears on the left of the panel, supporting his head on his right hand with a cross-staff held between his legs. The heads of the ox and the ass are shown reaching out from beneath Joseph's clock.

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

This fragment is the lower part of a panel. The Virgin was doubtless seated on the upper left of the panel, holding the Child on her lap, who reaches out with his left hand to touch a cup held in the right hand of the bearded king, Gaspar. He wears a loose gown with a low belt from which small bells are hanging, and kneels on his right knee looking up at the Child, holding a crown in his left hand. The leg of another king is to the right and behind him stands the lower half of a king, holding his present in his left hand. The figure of Joseph sits sleeping on the ground in the lower left of the panel, supporting his head on his right hand, a cross-staff held between his legs by his left hand. The heads of the ox and the ass are shown reaching out from beneath Joseph's cloak, presumably towards a manger.

The whole of the top and right side of the panel are missing. A diagonal break across the centre of the panel has been repaired. The carving is weathered. Very slight traces of green paint and the usual daisy pattern remain at the bottom of the panel. The back of the panel bears four lead-plugged holes. The bottom has been cut away.

Place of Origin

England (made)


second half 15th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved and painted alabaster


Height: 29.2 cm, Width: 26.6 cm

Object history note

Acquired by Dr W. L. Hildburgh in London. On loan from Dr Hildburgh since before 1931. Given by Dr Hildburgh in 1946.

Descriptive line

Alabaster panel (fragment), depicting the Adoration of the Magi, English, second half of 15th century

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

Cheetham, Francis. English Medieval Alabasters. Oxford: Phaidon-Christie's Limited, 1984. p. 184 (cat. 111), ill. ISBN 0-7148-8014-0


Alabaster; Paint


Carving; Painting

Subjects depicted

Crown; Ass; Bells (idiophones); Staff; Ox; Belt; Cloak; King; Cup


Christianity; Religion; Sculpture


Sculpture Collection

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