Lot 166
  • 166

England, Nottingham, second half 15th Century

250,000 - 350,000 USD
1,332,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • The Martyrdom Altarpiece
  • gilt and polychrome alabaster, in later wood framework
  • Saints Stephen and Lawrence: 15 1/2  by 5in.; 39.5 by 12.7cm.; the Martyrdom scenes 15 1/2  by 10 1/2  in.; 39.5 by 26.7cm.; the Trinity 20 by 10 1/2  in.; 50.8 by 26.7cm.;  length within  wood framework: 84 1/4 in.; 214cm.
consisting of seven alabaster canopies and seven reliefs panel, from left to right including:

the standing figure of St. Stephen, the deacon saint holding three stones in his left hand and a book of gospels in his right;
the martyrdom of St. Stephen, with the kneeling saint holding a scroll in his hands surrounded by four figures throwing stones, the hand of God above ;
the martyrdom of St. Lawrence with the denuded saint chained to a gridiron over a fire stoked by two torturers, a scroll issuing from his mouth, and with three figures including the Emperor Valerian;
the Trinity with the enthroned figure of God the Father holding Christ Crucified between His knees and a basket of souls held between His wrists, four angels beneath;
the martyrdom of St. Erasmus, centered by Diocletian, sword in hand and flanked by two torturers, the saint clad in a loin cloth and laid out on a trestle table while being disemboweled;
the martyrdom of St. Thomas with the kneeling saint at prayer with four assailants around him;
the standing figure of St. Lawrence, the gridiron in his left hand, a book of gospels in his right


Probably formerly in the Carthusian Monastery of the Chartreuse de Vauvers, which stood behind the Palais Luxembourg in Paris and which was destroyed during the revolution in 1798 
Collection of the Carthusian Order France, c. 1901
Sotheby's, London, 14 December 1978, lot 22
Collection formed by the British Rail Pension Fund, sale Sotheby's London, 4 July 1996, lot 17
Private collection, England


Norwich Castle Museum, 1979-1995


F. Cheetham, "A Fifteenth-century English alabaster altar-piece in Norwich Castle Museum," in Burlington Magazine, June 1983, pp. 356-359, figs. 45-51
600 Years of British Painting: The Berger Collection at the Denver Art Museum, exhibition catalogue, Denver Art Museum, Denver, 10 October 1998 - 28 March 1999, pp. 8-11
F. Cheetham, Alabaster Images of Medieval England, Woodbridge, 2003, pp. 39, 53, 64, 164

Catalogue Note

Francis Cheetham (1983, op. cit.) recorded that this triptych is the only known Nottingham altarpiece illustrating the theme of Martyrdom; the other known altars depict scenes of the Passion or the Life of the Virgin. The Martyrdom Altarpiece is also the only complete altar of single register to come to auction in America within the last century. 

Where Limoges had monopolized and standardized its champlevé enamelled copper liturgical works of art and Saxony long dictated the production of bronze vessels, England dominated the market for carved stone altarpieces in Europe for most of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It capitalised on the softness of the alabaster which made it easy to carve and which was found in the quarries near Derby, west of Nottingham in England. The Nottingham sculptors used standard designs for their reliefs, although no two panels are the same, and produced the objects in a format that made them easy to transport along the trade routes. At least eight complete altarpieces made their way to Iceland in this manner, as well as Cartagena in southern Spain, Palma de Mallorca and the island of Korcula off the coast of Croatia. But because of the destruction of the majority of altar during the wars and the Reformation, England itself possesses only two complete Nottingham altarpieces in the Nottingham Castle Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, although fragments still exist in churches throughout the country.