Alabaster on the International Stage
For centuries, Nottingham alabaster has captured the imaginations of artists and religious institutions across the world. Known to be some of the last remaining British sculpture-work to survive the pre-Reformation period, we are proud to announce that the Castle will be showcasing a collection of these works: the largest of its kind in Europe.
These carvings have found themselves spread in abbeys and churches from Portugal to Iceland, with medieval traders eager to lay claim to these prestigious works. This covetousness has lasted into the modern age and has come at a price.
As The Times newspaper has reported, that Nottingham alabaster sculptures in St Michel Basilica in Bordeaux, France, had been stolen in 1984 and replaced with modern fakes, before being sold on by a Bordeaux antiques dealer. It has taken 25 years for the reliefs to be returned to their rightful place in the Basilica, with sculptures arriving back at the Basilica in 2018.
From Global to Local Histories
Yet the story of three of Nottingham’s most prized carvings takes us not to global stories of heists or the exotic churches of the Mediterranean, but to the floorboards of a Church in Flawford village, Nottinghamshire.
In 1779, workmen were removing the chancel floor of St Peter’s Church when they made a remarkable discovery. Three beautifully preserved alabaster figures, presumably hidden during the iconoclastic Reformation period, were discovered under the paving. Unlike the vast majority of their sculpted counterparts, these alabasters had survived ‘The Putting Away of Books and Images Act’, 1549, which had led to the near-complete eradication of pre-existing Christian artworks in Britain.
Virgin and Child (top left), depicting Mary and the baby Jesus, Saint Peter as Pope (above right), one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages and Figure of a Bishop (left), possibly representing the medieval Bishop St Thomas Beckett, were all found in St Peter’s Church. Moreover, they are the oldest earliest surviving examples of Nottingham alabaster. They were carved around 1380. These hidden treasures will rightfully take pride of place in our alabaster collections.