Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Altarpiece

  • Place of origin:

    Antwerp (possibly, made)
    Mechelen (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1550-1560 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Alabaster reliefs in carved oak frame with cast gesso designs, painted and gilded

  • Museum number:

    587-1883

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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.

Three alabaster reliefs (showing the Crucifixion, the Entombment, and God the Father with the Holy Ghost) are set into the wooden frame of the altar. The frame is covered with elaborate strapwork, designs and figures in cast gesso, painted and gilded.

Physical description

Three alabaster reliefs (showing the Crucifixion, the Entombment, and God the Father with the Holy Ghost) are set into the wooden frame of the altar. The frame is covered with elaborate strapwork, designs and figures in cast gesso, painted and gilded.

Place of Origin

Antwerp (possibly, made)
Mechelen (possibly, made)

Date

ca. 1550-1560 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Alabaster reliefs in carved oak frame with cast gesso designs, painted and gilded

Dimensions

Height: 81.9 cm, Width: 52.2 cm, Depth: 11 cm ca.

Object history note

Bought at the sale of the Minard collection, Ghent, 15 May 1883.

Historical significance: The alabaster reliefs on this altar are likely to have been made in Mechelen (Malines), which was a well-known centre for the production of such reliefs in the sixteenth century. The third quarter of the sixteenth century - the time at which this altar was probably made - is the period in which the most accomplished Malines reliefs were produced. By around 1600, the city was making a vast number of reliefs and the overall quality had declined. Altarpieces like this one have survived in fairly large numbers, but this is a good example of its type. It is similar to a house-altar in the Musees royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Brussels, which also shows the Entombment and God the Father, but with the Ascension in place of the Crucifixion; the frames of the two are almost identical.

The mannerist decoration and shape of the frame derive from designs by Antwerp artists such as Cornelius Floris. It is possible that the reliefs were sent to Antwerp to be framed and then sold.

Historical context note

The small scale of this altar suggests that it was used in a domestic setting.

Descriptive line

House-altar depicting the Crucifixion, Netherlands (Antwerp or Malines), ca. 1550 - 1560

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

Derveaux-Van Ussel, G. Exposition de Sculptures anglaises et malinoises d'Âlbatre. Exhibition catalogue. Brussels: Musees royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, 1967, p. 42

Wustrack, W. M. Die Mechelner Alabaster-Manufaktur des 16. und frühen 17. Jahrhunderts. Frankfurt-am-Main and Bern, 1982, pp. 54, 357, cat. 433, fig. 406.

Williamson, Paul. Netherlandish Sculpture 1450-1550. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2002, pp. 150-1, cat. 50.
List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington Museum acquired during the Year 1883. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1884. pp. 73
Trusted, Marjorie. Ed. The Making of Sculpture. The materials and techniques of European Sculpture. London. 2007. pp. 112
Mechelner Alabaster. Trier: Städtisches Museum, 1967
Huysmans. Cornelis Floris, 1514-1575: beeldhouwer, architect, ontwerper. Brussels, 1996
c.f. El esplendor de Flandes: Arte de Bruselas, Amberes y Malinas en los s. XV- XVI. Barcelona. 1999
c.f. Art before the Iconoclasm: Northern Netherlandish Art 1525-1580. Amsterdam. 1986

Production Note

The alabaster reliefs were probably made in Mechelen (Malines), and the frame may have been made in Antwerp.

Materials

Alabaster; Oak; Gesso

Techniques

Carved; Painted; Gilded; Cast

Subjects depicted

Dove; Holy Spirit

Categories

Sculpture; Religion

Collection

Sculpture Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.