St Thomas Becket landing at Sandwich thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10

St Thomas Becket landing at Sandwich

Relief
second half 15th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This panel would have formed part of an altarpiece depicting the story of St Thomas Becket, a very popular saint in the Middle Ages. The reverse of the panel has six lines scored on it, indicating that this scene was sixth in line in the altarpiece.

The cult of Thomas Becket was important across medieval Europe, and Canterbury was one of the major pilgrimage destinations of medieval Christendom. In spite of this, representations of the saint are relatively rare survivals in English alabaster. One other panel showing this scene survives.

The panel shows St Thomas stepping down the gang-plank from a ship at Sandwich, and represents his triumphant return to England in 1170, having been reconciled with Henry II. The ship is shown in some detail, with a crows nest, and a horizontal mast with furled sail. St Thomas was the patron saint of the Merchant Adventurers, which may account for the inclusion of this particular episode, with its emphasis on international travel, on altarpieces devoted to the saint.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Carved, painted and gilt alabaster
Brief Description
Relief, alabaster, depicting St Thomas Becket landing at Sandwich,English, second half of 15th century.
Physical Description
The panel has plain borders on each side above the figures. The beardless mitred saint, wearing a girded alb and a cloak fastened with a brooch, stands in the centre of the panel, on a gang-plank, looking down to his right at a kneeling bearded figure wearing a belted gown, whose right hand he holds in his right. In his left hand he holds a cross-staff. The gang-plank leads to the stern of a cross-rigged ship with the sail furled. A crow's nest tops the central mast to which on each side are attached three lines of rigging. A tonsured figure, wearing an alb and a cape, stands in the ship, looking towards the saint, holding a book in his left hand to which he points with his right. Behind him to the right stands a hooded figure, pointing to the saint with his left hand. Three praying clerics, wearing gowns, stand on the left of the panel, including a bearded figure at the back of the group.



The top left-hand corner of the panel is missing and the right-hand corner is chipped. The section of St. Thomas' cross-staff between his hand and the cross is missing. Green paint and the usual daisy pattern remain on the ground. Green paint remains on the sea. The lower background has black spots on a pinkish background. The background at the top of the panel bears traces of gilding. There are marks of reddish-brown paint on the rigging, and blue on the inside of the saint's mitre. The back of the panel bears three lead-plugged holes with looped latten wires attached. The bottom has been cut away.
Dimensions
  • Height: 45.5cm (Note: Height 45,5 cm Width 24,0 cm Depth 0,5 cm)
  • Width: 24.3cm
  • Depth: 5.3cm
  • Weight: 6.32kg
Measured for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries 2006
Style
Credit line
Given by Dr W. L. Hildburgh FSA
Object history
On loan to the Museum from Dr W.L. Hildburgh since 1930. Given by Dr Hildburgh in 1946.



Historical significance: Only one other alabaster panel of St. Thomas landing at Sandwich is recorded.
Historical context
This panel, with A.166-1946, was probably part of an altarpiece depicting the story of this popular saint. The back of the panel has 6 lines scratched on it, probably indicating that this scene was the sixth in line in the altarpiece.

The cult of Thomas Becket was a particularly important one across medieval Europe, and Canterbury was one of the major pilgrimage destinations of medieval Christendom. In spite of this, relatively few representations of the saint's story survive in alabaster: there is one other alabaster panel recorded showing this scene (Cheetham, Alabaster Images of Medieval England, 2003, fig.92), which was sold at Christie's in 1980. The scene shows St Thomas stepping down the gang-plank from a ship at Sandwich, and being greeted by a kneeling figure, and represents his triumphant return to England in 1170, having been reconciled with Henry II. The other surviving panel showing this subject has a similar composition with the saint stepping down from right to left, and being greeted by a kneeling figure to the left. In both panels the ship is shown in some detail, as having a crows nest, and a horizontal mast with furled sail. St Thomas was the patron saint of the Merchant Adventurers, which may account for the popularity of this particular scene, with its emphasis on international travel.
Subjects depicted
Summary
This panel would have formed part of an altarpiece depicting the story of St Thomas Becket, a very popular saint in the Middle Ages. The reverse of the panel has six lines scored on it, indicating that this scene was sixth in line in the altarpiece.



The cult of Thomas Becket was important across medieval Europe, and Canterbury was one of the major pilgrimage destinations of medieval Christendom. In spite of this, representations of the saint are relatively rare survivals in English alabaster. One other panel showing this scene survives.



The panel shows St Thomas stepping down the gang-plank from a ship at Sandwich, and represents his triumphant return to England in 1170, having been reconciled with Henry II. The ship is shown in some detail, with a crows nest, and a horizontal mast with furled sail. St Thomas was the patron saint of the Merchant Adventurers, which may account for the inclusion of this particular episode, with its emphasis on international travel, on altarpieces devoted to the saint.
Associated Object
Bibliographic References
  • Cheetham, Francis. English Medieval Alabasters. Oxford: Phaidon-Christie's Limited, 1984. p. 155 (cat. 84), ill. ISBN 0-7148-8014-0
  • T. Borenius, St Thomas Becket in Art, London, 1932, p.66 and plate XXV
  • W. L. Hildburgh, 'Miscellaneous Notes Concerning English Alabaster Carvings', Archaeological Journal, LXXXVIII, 1931, pp.239-40, plate VIII
  • Hansa: real life and myth (Die Hanse, Lebenswirklichkeit und Mythos), Hamburg, 1989
  • Exhibition of English Medieval Art, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1930no.597
  • De Beer, Lloyd, and Speakman, Naomi. Thomas Becket: Murder and the Making of A Saint. Exhibition Catalogue, British Museum. London: Briths Museum, 2021, p. 172
Other Number
71 (1932 Eton Medieval exhibition) - Exhibition number
Collection
Accession Number
A.167-1946

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record createdNovember 26, 2002
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