This masterpiece of 14th-century alabaster carving is a rare surviving example of a Virgin and Child made in England before the Reformation.
Sculpture of the Virgin and Child, 1360
© British Museum
- Alabaster with extensive polychromy and gilding
- 74.8 x 26.7 x 11.7 cm
- Acquired in:
- Sam Fogg
Only 12 other 14th-century alabasters of the same subject are known to exist, with only four in the UK.
The piece was probably carved in the Midlands, near the alabaster quarries in Derbyshire and Staffordshire. The Virgin is shown crowned as Queen of Heaven, with a flowering branch in her left hand. In her right arm she carries the Christ Child, who holds an orb in one hand and touches his mother’s breast with the other.
The regal status of the figures would originally have been magnified by rich colouring and gilding, large portions of which remain.
Alabaster was a popular material for medieval artists working across the continent and English alabaster was prized for its whiteness. The fine condition of this carving suggests it may have been exported before the Reformation, or sold off at a time when similar examples were being damaged or destroyed. Its presence on the continent has been recorded for at least 150 years, and its provenance before that remains to be discovered. It now returns to Britain as a precious record of devotional sculpture in the pre-Reformation era.
Redemptorist Monastery, Saint Truiden, Limburg, Belgium, after 1866; Dr. Albert Figdor, Vienna, before 1890 - until 1930; his sale, Paul Cassirer Berlin, 29-30 September 1930, vol. IV, lot 142, pl. LXXVII; European noble family; thence by descent; sold at