Current location: private collection
Project ref.: St Peter / 15th Century / Wolverhampton
Material(s): oak, gilding (later)
Dimensions: 1143mm h. x 508mm w. x 254 mm d.
Iconography: St Peter (in papal regalia)
Period: 15th century (early)
Place of recovery: England, West Midlands, Wolverhampton
Probable origin: England, Wolverhampton
Probable context: collegiate church / patronal image
Construction/materials: Wrought from single stock of heavy, nut-brown colored oak. Body carved in three-quarter round; head carved in full-round but roughly finished at back. Reverse of torso flat with deep (approx. 100mm) centrally located rectangular cavity with prominent adze marks from excavation .
Surface: Deeply patinated to dark brown on all exposed surfaces; few, minute traces of polychrome (residual globules of ground/primer). Modern (early 20th?) gilding coating all exposed surfaces.
Condition: Timber sound with no evidence of rot of insect damage. Old (17th or 18th) 400mm (max) h. patch fixed with pins to true-right side running from base to midpoint of trunk. Old (17th or 18th) wedge fixed to socle with wrought nails. Applied forearms lost but vertical fixing pins remaining. Found with modern (late 19th or early 20th) forearms in place.
Provenance: Recovered c. 1980 from now-defunct North Street Wolverhampton pub (used as a tradesign in the inner entryway); sold c. 1981, Patrick Morely Antiques (Warwick); sold Feb 2012 to present owner.
Image credit(s): Don White, 2012.
Description: This imposing image of St Peter as Pope was recovered in the early 1980s from a pub adjacent to Giffard House (now Sts Peter and Paul, Roman Catholic), Wolverhampton’s traditional Catholic meeting place, described in 1729 as ‘the house where time out of mind Catholicks have used to meet for their devotions’. Taken together with iconography (St Peter in full papal regalia), provenannce militates towards a conclusion that this sculpture originated in the nearby church of St Peter, Wolverhampton, where it may have served as the patronal image of this large and prestigious collegiate foundation.
There is close correspondence between the facial types (notably the narrow, almond-shaped eyes with heavy double lids, and the furrowed, heavily overhanging brow that joins to the bridge of the nose with a U-shaped convention) and the execution of drapery on the Wolverhampton St Peter and the mid 15th-century sculpted stone figures of kings from the pulpitum at York Minster. The distinctive form of the papal tiara, with its splayed, fleshy vegetal fleurons, relates to the detailing of the headgear depicted in 15th-century English alabaster representations of God the Father.
Large scale sculptures of St Peter in papal regalia were especially popular in late medieval northern France and the Netherlands. Such images served as a visible sign of the authority and continuity of the. Roman church in the face of increasing heterodoxy in the fifteenth century.
Most Continental examples of this subject are seated in elaborate thrones, such as two early sixteenth-century Netherlandish sculptures of at the V&A (107&:2-1888; A.4-2002). This unusual standing variant, with its peculiar facial details, excessively stylized tiara and distinctive brown timber is undoubtedly English. The distinctive configuration of the beard – wedge-shaped and composed of innumerable small curlicues – my be close compared with the beard of a fifteenth-century alabaster sculpture of St James the Great in the Victoria & Albert Museum (A89—1946).
- Karen Bruhn, ‘Reforming Saint Peter: Protestant Constructions of Saint Peter the Apostle in Early Modern’, The Sixteenth Century Journal, 33: 1 (2002), pp. 33-49
- Francis Cheetham, English Medieval Alabasters: With a catalogue of the collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum (Woodbridge, 1984), pp. 107, 303-308
- Michael W. Greenslade, Catholic Staffordshire, 1500-1850 (Leominster, 2006), p. 171
- Lawrence Stone, Sculpture in Britain in the Middle Ages (Harmondsworth, 1955), p. 220
- Paul Williamson, Netherlandish Sculpture 1450- 1550 (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2002). pp. 52-53
1. Right-side gallery of kings, limestone, pulpitum, York Minster, c. 1450.
2. Detail of king Stephen, gallery of kings, limestone, pulpitum, York Minster, c. 1450.
3. The Trinity, alabaster, England (probably North Midlands), late 15th century (Victoria & Albert Museum, 901-1907).
4. St Peter enthroned as Pope, oak, Limburg, c. 1520 (Victoria & Albert Museum, 107&:2-1888 ).
Image credit(s): Don White, 2012; V&A.