Alabaster Collection

alabaster

The three Flawford figures, c. 1380, from the Nottingham Castle Museum and Galleries Collections.

From the late 14th century to the early 16th century, Nottingham was a major centre for carving, painting and gilding of small alabaster panels and figures. The alabaster, a soft translucent stone, easily carved, was mined in nearby Derbyshire and Staffordshire. The panels were carved with religious images, many grouped together to form altarpieces in churches. Others were framed as individual devotional objects in the church or the home. These brightly coloured images brought religious stories to life, at a time when few people were able to read. They were a focus for contemplation and meditation. The market for Nottingham alabasters extended across Britain, into Europe: from France, Spain, Italy and Iceland. The Nottingham alabaster carving industry came to an abrupt end with The English Reformation, when in 1535 Henry VIII established the Church of England and broke with the Roman Catholic tradition of worship. Official Acts authorised the destruction of ‘superstitious’ images and alabaster panels were key targets to be smashed and burned. Many alabaster carvings were destroyed, but large numbers were exported, others were hidden. Nottingham has the most important collection of mediaeval alabasters outside the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It holds 25 individually carved panels and figures, including three rare early statues discovered at Flawford in Nottinghamshire and a complete altarpiece made of five panels illustrating scenes from The Passion of Christ. Most pieces from this collection can be seen on display in our History Galleries.