The Virgin with the Dead Christ

Statue
ca. 1430 (made)
The Virgin with the Dead Christ thumbnail 1
The Virgin with the Dead Christ thumbnail 2
+4
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

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.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Carved alabaster
Brief Description
Statue, alabaster, The Virgin with the Dead Christ, by the Master of Rimini, South Netherlands, ca. 1430
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.
Dimensions
  • Height: 39.7cm
  • Base width: 32.6cm
  • Depth: 11.4cm
  • Weight: 8.52kg
Credit line
Given by Sir Thomas Barlow
Object history
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
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.
Subjects depicted
Summary
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.
Bibliographic References
  • Artists and Craftsmen of the Middle Ages: exhibition from private collections of incunabula, sculpture, paintings and drawings of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Manchester: Whitworth Art Gallery, 1947.
  • Williamson, Paul and Evelyn, Peta. Northern Gothic Sculpture 1200-1450 (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1988), pp.187-191
  • Williamson, Paul (ed.), European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1996), p. 64
  • Trusted, Marjorie (ed.). The Making of Sculpture: The Materials and Techniques of European Sculpture (London: V&A Publications, 2007), p. 106, pl. 182
  • Mazzotta, Antonio and Salsi, Claudio (eds). Vesperbild: Alle origini delle Pietà di Michelangelo. Exhibition Catalogue, Milan, Castello Sforzesco (Milan: Officina Libraria, 2018), pp.60-65, p. 130, cat. 3
  • Hirst, Michael, Making and Meaning: The Young Michelangelo, London, National Gallery, 1994
  • MacGregor, Neil and Langmuir, Erika, Seeing Salvation: images of Christ in art, London, BBC, 2000
  • Europäische Kunst um 1400, Wien : Kunsthistorisches Museum, 1962no.388
Collection
Accession Number
A.28-1960

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record createdMarch 2, 2004
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