Crucifixion Altar from Rimini
Master of the Rimini-Altar

Southern Netherlands or Northern France
ca. 1430

Alabaster, traces of old polychromy
Height 225.5 cm

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In 1913, a spectacular purchase was made for the Liebieghaus: the Rimini Altar. It earned that adjective not only on account of its high artistic quality, but also because it was one of the most extensive and best-preserved figural ensembles made of alabaster, a type of usually whitish gypsum that is dense but nevertheless relatively easy to work with.

The centre of the ensemble is a scene of Christ’s crucifixion with a number of figures worked from several blocks. That group is flanked by six apostles on each side. The fully three-dimensional and once partially polychrome sculptures were part of an altarpiece in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Rimini. They were not produced in Italy, however, but in a workshop specializing in alabaster in Northern France or the Southern Netherlands. This studio was active far and wide, a circumstance in keeping with the artistic style it pursued. These highly idealized sculptures of around 1430 are still largely in keeping with the characteristics of the Beautiful style, also referred to as the International Style because it was found throughout Europe.

Without this general stylistic consensus it would scarcely have been conceivable for works of art to be disseminated to the extent they evidently were. Yet a transformation can be sensed in the depiction of certain anatomic and physiognomic details in this crucifixion, particularly in the unsparing description of the robbers’ broken and dislocated limbs. Here inspirations from contemporaneous Netherlandish painting and its growing interest in the observation of nature reflect the prerequisites for the art produced in the decades that followed.