Alabaster Sculpture in Europe 1300-1650

Speaker: Dra. Marjan Debaene

From England, Spain, and France, to the Low Countries, Germany, and Poland, alabaster was a popular material in European sculpture, in particular between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. More readily available than marble in most countries north of the Alps and easier to carve, this soft and fragile stone was suitable not only for bespoke monuments and altarpieces, but also for statuettes and reliefs produced for the open market. For several decades alabaster has been the subject of multidisciplinary research combining technical analysis with historical and art-historical approaches. This winter a major exhibition of alabaster sculpture is hosted by M Leuven. It brings together research of the field’s most renowned specialists and sheds light on the many facets of alabaster; its physical and chemical properties, its translucency, whiteness, softness, and beautiful sheen, which were exploited to advantage throughout Europe from the late Middle Ages to the Baroque era in a variety of sculptural types and genres, of religious and secular subjects alike. The exhibition presents around 130 masterpieces of alabaster made by the best alabaster artists from the 14th to the 17th century: André Beauneveu, Jean Mone and Conrad Meit (Southern Netherlands), Tilman Riemenschneider (Germany), Jean de Cambrai and Germain Pilon (France), Diego de Siloe and Damien Forment (Spain).

But the story of alabaster does not end with the 17th century. That is why M is also showing contemporary works by the Belgian artist Sofie Muller (b. 1974). The lecture will give an overview on the exhibition concept, the choices made and will highlight some of the masterpieces in the exhibition.

Dra. Marjan Debaene studied Art History and Cultural Studies at KULeuven. Today she is Head of Old Masters and Collections at museum M in Leuven (B). She specializes in late gothic and early renaissance art from Brabant. Marjan has curated various exhibitions for M f.i. ‘Signed, Jan R. The re-discovery of a Renaissance Master’ (2012), ‘Sculptures from Bruges’ (2015), ‘Masters of Sculpture’, ‘Crossing Borders. Medieval Sculpture from the Low Countries’ (2017) and Borman and Sons. The best sculptors (2019). She is curator of the current exhibition ‘Alabaster’ (M Leuven, 14/10/2022-26/02/2023). She is also the coordinator of Ards, the network association for medieval sculpture (

Marjan’s doctoral research at KULeuven focuses on late gothic Louvain sculpture, under supervision of Prof. Dr. Jan Vander Stock (KUL) and Prof. Dr. Ethan Matt Kavalar (University of Toronto).

Organised by Dr Jessica Barker (The Courtauld) and Dr Tom Nickson (The Courtauld)

This event has passed.

8 Feb 2023

Wednesday 8th February, 5pm - 6.30pm GMT

Free, booking essential

Vernon Square campus, Lecture Theatre 1

This is an in person event at our Vernon Square campus. Booking will close 30 minutes before the event begins.

Photograph of a sculpture of the Virgin Mary, who leans on a book sitting on a plinth
Tilman Riemenschneider, The Virgin Annunciate, c. 1495, Franconian alabaster, partially polychromed (c) 2016 musée du Louvre (RMN)/ Stéphane Maréchalle

Alabaster Sculpture in Europe 1300-1650