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The Virgin with the Dead Christ

  • Object:

    Statue

  • Place of origin:

    Netherlands (south, probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1430 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    The Master of Rimini (probably, artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved alabaster

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Sir Thomas Barlow

  • Museum number:

    A.28-1960

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, room 10, case 4

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This alabaster was made to be a devotional piece, and other similar examples survive in various collections across Europe, but this piece is particularly fine, being a perfect example of a combination of older, traditional styles, with the the most up-to-date developments in art and the realism and naturalism of painters like Rogier van der Weyden and Jan van Eyck.

The sculpture emphasises Christ's physical suffering and the anguish of his mother. The object helped focus the mind of individuals on contemplation of man’s redemption by Christ’s sacrifice, and the Virgin’s acceptance of his death for the sake of mankind.

The southern Netherlands were an important centre for the production of alabaster sculpture during the 15th century, and while not producing the numbers that the English alabaster workshops turned out, they certainly exceeded their English counterparts in quality of craftsmanship. The English alabaster-carvers dominated the lower end of the market, catering for patrons right across Europe who could not afford to spend very much but were eager to furnish their parish churches and homes with religious imagery. The Netherlandish workshops, by contrast, produced fewer but many times more carefully finished alabaster sculptures, which were also considerably more expensive to buy.

Physical description

Statue in alabaster of The Virgin with the Dead Christ. The Virgin sits on a low bench supporting the Dead Christ on her lap; she holds His outstretched left arm with her left hand, and supports His head with her right hand. Her head is covered with a short veil and she wears a full mantle over a belted gown. The Dead Christ lies across her knees wearing the crown of thorns on His head and with the spear-wound visible on the right side of his chest.

Place of Origin

Netherlands (south, probably, made)

Date

ca. 1430 (made)

Artist/maker

The Master of Rimini (probably, artist)

Materials and Techniques

Carved alabaster

Dimensions

Height: 39.7 cm, Width: 32.6 cm base, Depth: 11.4 cm, Weight: 8.52 kg

Object history note

The present alabaster group is almost certainly by the artist known to us by the alias of the 'Rimini Master' (see P. Wiliamson and P. Evelyn, 'Northern Gothic Sculpture 1200-1450', V&A publication, London, 1988, pp.187-191), a sculptor who has been shown to be probably a South Netherlandish alabasterer. He - or perhaps they, being presumably an export workshop - was also responsible for the famous alabaster Crucifixion scene from the church of St. Maria delle Grazie in Rimini-Covignano, now in the Liebieghaus, Frankfurt. The Rimini Master's work was exported to North-east Italy, amongst other places.

This alabaster was made to be a devotional piece, and other similar examples survive in various collections across Europe, but this piece is particularly fine, being a perfect example of the Rimini workshop's combination of older, traditional styles, with the the most up-to-date developments in art and the realism and naturalism of painters like Rogier van der Weyden and Jan van Eyck.

Interestingly, we know that alabaster, a fine-grained form of gypsum (hydrous calcium sulphate), from England was exported raw in blocks to the Continent for use by sculptors. Unfortunately, it is not yet been possible to identify the national origin of alabaster from its appearance or geology; alabaster was also mined in the Netherlands itself, and this is more likely to be, therefore, native stone.

Alabaster was popular amongst medieval artists because it is softer and far easy to work than marble, but still very suited to detailed, closely observed work, such as the very fine folds of the drapery seen here, which southern Netherlandish alabaster-carvers always carefully reproduced, and also takes paint and gilding well. Indeed, this Pietà bears traces of paint on the beard of Christ, his mouth and hair too, his crown of thorns and in places on the Virgin's clothing. At the same time, it is likely that areas of alabaster, in particular flesh and skin, would have been left unpainted, for alabaster once polished is highly attractive, giving a deep, translucent gleam, and we know that this finish was also thought to be handsome during the period when this object was carved. The waxy gleam of polished alabaster was especially suited to

Historical context note

The southern Netherlands were an important centre for the production of alabaster sculpture during the 15th century, and while not producing the numbers that the English alabaster workshops turned out, they certainly exceeded their English counterparts in quality of craftsmanship. The English alabaster-carvers dominated the lower end of the market, catering for patrons right across Europe who could not afford to spend very much but were eager to furnish their parish churches and homes with religious imagery. The Netherlandish workshops, by contrast, produced fewer but many times more carefully finished alabaster sculptures, which were also considerably more expensive to buy.

Descriptive line

Statue, alabaster, The Virgin with the Dead Christ, by the Master of Rimini, South Netherlands, ca. 1430

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

P. Williamson and P. Evelyn, 'Northen Gothic Sculpture 1200-1450' (V&A Publication, London, 1988), pp.187-191.
Trusted, Marjorie, ed. The Making of Sculpture. The Materials and Techniques of European Sculpture. London: 2007, p. 106, pl. 182
Williamson, Paul (ed), European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1996, p. 64

Exhibition History

Seeing Salvation: The Image of Christ (National Gallery (London) 26/02/2000-07/05/2000)
Making and Meaning: the Young Michelangelo (National Gallery (London) 19/10/1994-15/01/1995)
Vienna Exhibition of European Art around 1400 (07/05/1962-31/07/1962)
Exhibition of German Art, 1400-1800 (Manchester Art Gallery 25/10/1961-10/12/1961)
Artists and Craftsmen of the Middle Ages: exhibition from private collections if incunabula, sculpture, paintings and drawings of teh fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (Whitworth Art Gallery 01/01/1947-31/12/1947)

Materials

Alabaster

Techniques

Carving

Subjects depicted

Jesus Christ; Mary (Virgin Mary); Death; Mothers; Crown of Thorns; Veils; Mantles; Gowns

Categories

Sculpture; Religion; Christianity; Death

Collection code

SCP

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Qr_O94288
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