ENGLAND, NOTTINGHAM, 15th Century
The Resurrection of Jesus is central to Christian faith and art. It is depicted in Christian art – both as a single scene and as part of a cycle showing the Life of Christ. The inclusion of the sleeping guards, illustrated in this alabaster group, appear in one of the earliest depictions of the scene, an ivory plaque dated c. 400 AD.
A Nottinghamshire alabaster depiction of ‘The Resurrection of Christ’ is housed in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Gift of William Randolph Hearst Foundation; Accession Number: 49.26.10). It portrays a similar scene, with the soldiers sleeping next to Christ’s tomb. However, in this depiction, the iconography shows Christ stepping out of a sarcophagus, placing his foot on one of the sleeping soldiers – a scene which was first found in English alabaster reliefs.
This portrayal of the group at Christ’s tomb is unusual in that most depictions show the resurrection of Christ, who is presented emerging triumphantly from the tomb whilst the soldiers lie sleeping around him. It this depiction, he remains recumbent beside them.
Nottingham alabaster: ‘Nottingham alabaster’ refers to the sculpture industry which thrived in England from the fourteenth until the early sixteenth century. The alabaster carvers worked in London, York and Burton-on-Trent, but the largest concentration of production was around Nottingham – in Derbyshire and Staffordshire – where large accessible deposits of alabaster were discovered, hence the work being referred to as ‘Nottingham alabaster’. Most of the alabaster carvings were relatively small and depicted religious subjects. The newly finished carvings were polished and pristine, brightly coloured and gilded. They were usually commissioned for churches but also for the home. For congregations who were largely unable to read, these alabaster carvings served to bring biblical narratives to life. English alabaster carvings were traded across Continental Europe and North America.