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The Crucifixion

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Germany (Southern, made)

  • Date:

    1460-1500 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Mother-of-pearl, in gilt mount

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mr T. Whitcombe Green

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 111, The Gilbert Bayes Gallery, case 2, shelf 2

Mother-of-pearl, jet coral and amber were selected by craftsmen for their beauty, durability and rarity. These materials often occurred in a particular geographical region. Coral for example was prevalent in Sicily and amber along the Baltic coast. Many of the religious items were portable, as were the small portraits. They were often made locally and then taken elsewhere. Pilgrims from all over Europe bought the jet images made in Santiago de Compostela.

Physical description

In the top centre is Christ crucified above 'INRI', behind are the two thieves bound to T-shaped crosses. At the foot of the Cross stand Mary and St. John and behind them are soldiers, Lonhinus with a spear, Stephaton with a sponge, and others. On either side mounted figures, the centurion and the high priests. The background is much recessed and gilt, detail finely cut.

Place of Origin

Germany (Southern, made)


1460-1500 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Mother-of-pearl, in gilt mount


Diameter: 8.5 cm

Object history note

From the A. von Lanna Collection, Prague (Sale Berlin Part II, 1911, lot 176). Given by Mr T. Whitcombe Green in 1929.

Historical significance: This relief of the crucifixion is slightly convex, reflecting the shape of the mollusc shell. The background is recessed and gilt. The finely-carved and densely packed composition may well be based on an engraved source, perhaps by Master ES, although the exact print has not been traced. The relief is in a gilt mount, and was probably an independent devotional piece. Similar mother of pearl reliefs are in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA 68.240), the Stuttgart Würtembergisches Landesmuseum, and Lucerne, Kofler-Truniger Collection.

Historical context note

Mother of pearl (the carved pearly lining of a mollusc shell) was valued as a semi-precious material, and used for small-scale sculptures in Germany,the Netherlands and Bohemia from the fourteenth century onwards, and above all in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Often such works depicted religious subjects (though some portraits are also known), and were probably particularly valued because they could serve as portable devotional items. Engraved sources frequently provided the basis of the compositions, and the carvings were generally produced in anonymous workshops. The material was valued as much as the skill in carving. Some mother of pearl reliefs were attached to crucifixes, reliquaries, portable altars or rosaries, while others were later valued as Kunstkammer objects, and set into caskets and cabinets.

Descriptive line

The Crucifixion, mother of pearl medallion, South German, late 15th century, ca. 1460-1500

Production Note

South German. Perhaps based on a composition by the 15th century German engraver known as the Master E.S.


Mother of pearl

Subjects depicted





Sculpture Collection

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