Altarpiece: The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ
Date: Circa 1460 – 1480
Materials and Techniques: Oak (woodcarving) and oil on panel
Dimensions: 241 x 585.5 cm
Museum Number: The Bowes Museum, W.123 (central wood carving) B.M.1018 – 1023 (surrounding pictures)
This is a religious piece of art made for a church and known as a retable or altarpiece. It was used as a screen that went behind the altar of a church so that the congregation could see the religious scenes depicted. The sheer size and detail of the piece show how important the images were thought to be.
The central panel is made of oak and has been intricately carved in the form of the head of a cross, with scenes of the passion and death of Christ. The scenes represented from left to right are: the scourging of Christ; the Carrying of the Cross; the Crucifixion; the Deposition and the Entombment. Six painted panels form the wings and these show the other significant events in Christ's life, including the Nativity and the Resurrection.
The passion, death and resurrection of Christ were held in the highest regard in the Medieval Church and it was important that all Christians knew the story. However, lots of people in church congregations could not read and write and so religious artwork was vital in reinforcing ordinary people's understanding of the Christian faith. The sheer scale and detail of this altarpiece and the highly visible location it had in church would have ensured that even if members of the congregation could not understand the Latin read out in the service, the paintings and images in front of them could still help them in their worship.