Friday, June 22, 2012

Alabaster Shrine of St John the Baptist

This very fine portable shrine dates to the 15th century, and it was carved in Nottingham from alabaster. Throughout the Middle Ages, Nottingham was a great centre of alabaster carving, and pieces such as this for private devotion, or other panels for church retables were exported throughout Christendom. Many were destroyed after the Reformation, and this complete domestic shrine is exceptionally rare. It is thought to be one of only five that survive in the world.

The central alabaster panel shows the head of St John the Baptist surrounded by six saints. Four of the saints are named on the painted wooden wings: St James the Greater, St Catherine of Alexandria on the left, and on the right, St Anthony of Egypt (decapitated) and St Margaret of Antioch. The remaining saints standing in the forefront are St Peter (on the left) and an unidentified sainted archbishop, possibly St Thomas of Canterbury. Beneath the head of the Baptist is an image of the Man of Sorrows rising from the Tomb, and above is the soul of St John the Baptist being taken into heavenly glory by two angels.

This piece is part of the Burrell Collection in Glasgow.

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