Miniature tabernacle, carved in boxwood


British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

This elaborate tabernacle was designed as a portable object of private devotion. It is an outstanding example of the minutely detailed, small-scale works of art that were owned by nobles or wealthy merchants in northern Europe during this period. Such objects were highly prized as masterpieces of carving and invention. The tabernacle is set in a Gothic architectural framework. It consists of several sections which come apart to reveal in astonishing detail scenes from the Life and Passion of Christ. The finial at the top is of the Pelican in Piety, symbolic of the sacrifice of Christ. It lifts off and four petals beneath unfold to recount Christ's childhood. A three-dimensional figure of the Virgin and Child rises within the centre, turned by a ratchet. The two-part central sphere is hinged, the upper half carved on the exterior with scenes framed by Gothic balustrading and crockets. Within, it contains two doors carved with further scenes on the inner and outer leaves, which open to reveal the Crucifixion carved in high relief. The interior of the lower half contains relief scenes relating to the Resurrection. The hexagonal stem, with alternating scenes and delicate openwork tracery, lifts off to reveal three further scenes carved in high relief. The carrying case is made of cuir bouilli (boiled leather), mounted with gold filigree and stamped with floral designs. It also bears the badges and coats of arms of Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor and as King of Spain.


  • Title: Miniature tabernacle, carved in boxwood
  • Date Created: 1500/1530
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 22.20cm (total); Weight: 155.46g (total); Length: 10.60cm (base); Width: 9.30cm (base); Length: 12.50cm (body open); Diameter: 6.10cm (body both halfs); Width: 10.00cm (body doors open); Diameter: 4.70cm (body doors); Height: 6.50cm (body closed); Hei
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: carved; relief; filigree
  • Subject: equestrian; heraldry; mammal; saint/martyr; flower; bird; virgin and child; annunciation; circumcision of christ; entry into jerusalem; expulsion of moneychangers; judgement of christ; resurrection; three maries at the tomb; adoration of magi; christ in hell; road t
  • Registration number: WB.233
  • Production place: Made in Belgium. Made in Flanders
  • Material: boxwood; leather; gold
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Bequeathed by Rothschild, Ferdinand Anselm. Previous owner/ex-collection Bligh, Carton

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