Alabaster was prized for its luster and capacity for fine details from the 14th to the 16th century particularly in Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Spain. The gleaming stone was used for altarpieces and small sculptures, as well as for the tombs of wealthy princes. Despite the rich corpus of surviving works, medieval alabaster sculpture from continental Europe has not yet been highlighted by museums in Europe and North America. The exhibition seeks to shed light on this important yet understudied topic by gathering some of the most extraordinary surviving examples of alabaster works from mainland Europe.
The core of the show will be the Cleveland Museum of Art’s masterpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider, Saint Jerome and the Lion, produced for the Benedictine abbey church of Saint Peter in Erfurt, Germany, depicting a legend in which Jerome kindly removes a thorn from a lion’s paw. Our exhibition will reunite Saint Jerome with another Riemenschneider work from the same church in Erfurt, the alabaster statuette The Virgin Mary of the Annunciation in the collection of the Louvre. These works are exceptionally rare, as they are two of only a few extant alabaster sculptures produced by Riemenschneider, with Saint Jerome being the only example in an American collection. One of the most prolific late Gothic sculptors, Riemenschneider is renowned for his technical virtuosity and ability to convincingly portray human emotion in his elegant sculptures of religious figures. Saint Jerome and the Louvre’s Virgin Mary are exemplary of Riemenschneider’s artistic ability, as well as the refinement that can be achieved with alabaster by virtue of the medium’s softness.
The majority of the objects in the exhibition come from the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art and allow insight into the production of alabaster sculptures in this period. It is striking that these works are of such a particularly exquisite quality and that the material was used especially for high-ranking commissions, such as the tomb of Duke Philip the Bold of Burgundy in Champmol near Dijon. A few loans from North American museums will complement the exhibition.