Monday, March 18, 2013 —
Raleigh, N.C.—This spring the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) presents Object of Devotion: Medieval English Alabaster Sculpture from the Victoria and Albert Museum, a robust collection of alabaster reliefs and independent figures drawn from the V&A’s unparalleled collection. The exhibition features 59 works spanning three centuries, including a set of panels from a single altarpiece.
Object of Devotion explores the history, meaning, and function of the alabaster sculptures and allows visitors the opportunity to study the role of art in the spiritual culture of medieval Europe, England in particular.
The works in Object of Devotion highlight the value and power of the visual narrative for a broad range of viewers, most of whom were illiterate. The objects were originally displayed in homes, chapels, and churches at all levels of Christian society. Depicting the virtuous examples of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and numerous Christian saints and martyrs, these works were created to inspire faith and devotion in viewers or to console them as they suffered their own personal hardships. The objects, exported throughout the European continent, offer insight into the deeply personal hopes, fears, and core beliefs of medieval Christians.
The presentation of Object of Devotion was carefully constructed with the visitor experience in mind.
“The exhibition is presented in an intimate setting. Low light levels and choral music from the period serve to create a reverential atmosphere,” says David Steel, curator of European art at the NCMA. “These elements should enhance the viewing experience for our visitors, helping them imagine that they have been transported to a different place and time as they enjoy these remarkable works.”
In the wake of England’s King Henry VIII’s cataclysmic break with the Catholic Church in 1534 and the advent of the Reformation, monasteries and convents were closed and their properties confiscated. During the latter part of his reign and that of his son and successor, Edward VI, religious art was ruthlessly targeted in a state-sponsored program aimed at purging the land of Catholic “idols.” The iconoclasm (literally, “image-breaking”) brought about the systematic destruction of religious art—sculpture, metalwork, glass, textiles, wall paintings, and alabaster panels—in public places, private homes, and monasteries. That these fragile works survived at all testifies to how they were cherished and valued by their owners, even in the face of persecution.
Object of Devotion is organized by Art Services International.