Abbey Museum medieval lamentation

Medieval Artwork Revealed

Earlier this week the Museum celebrated the arrival of an amazing new (ish) medieval sculpture into the Manuscript Gallery. The piece, a magnificent carved limestone frieze depicting an episode from Christ’s Passion, the Lamentation, weighs close to half a tonne so moving it into the Museum took quite an effort. It depicts the Three Marys anointing the body of the crucified Christ,  watched by  Joseph of Arimathea (who gave his own tomb for the body) and Nicodemus, a little man who had followed Jesus after being spotted in a tree to hear him preach.  The remaining column bordering the bas relief is wonderfully carved with cherubs, birds and flowers.

Medieval Sculpture Donated

The sculpture was donated to the Museum in the early 90’s (together with the Cheverly Manor panels) by Mike Figgis-Turner, Hollywood Director and at that time one of the owners of the Abbey Art Centre, the institution that succeeded JSM Ward’s Abbey Folk Park in New Barnet, England.  The sculptured frieze was originally displayed in the Abbey Church. No records have been found so far from Ward’s collection of the piece;  its provenance only listed as ‘Italy, 16th century’ although we believe it to be earlier.  With no room to display it until now, it has been in storage for almost 30 years!

Abbey Museum conservation

But what is it? Early research suggests that the carving is Gothic in style, which could date anywhere from the 13th to 16th centuries. Looking at the clothing worn by the figures will give us a closer date range, possibly down even to 20 years. The frieze itself is most likely to have been part of a rood screen, the wall that separates the nave of a cathedral or church. A similar example can be found in the Cathedral  in Leon, Spain, and an earlier form in the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul in Naumburg, Germany.

The ‘Lamentations’ frieze will be on display in the Abbey Museum during the Abbey Medieval Festival.

-By Michael Strong and Lincoln Morse