Apostle, probably Saint Judas Thaddeus

Artist/maker unknown, Southern Netherlandish or French

Made in southern Netherlands (modern Belgium), Europe
or northeastern France, France, Europe

c. 1450-1460


13 9/16 x 5 1/2 x 3 3/8 inches (34.4 x 14 x 8.6 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

* Gallery 217, European Art 1100-1500, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Purchased with the John D. McIlhenny Fund and with funds bequeathed by Carl and Joan Tandberg, 1999

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This statuette belongs to a series of similar figures, most now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Representing Jesus and the twelve apostles, the alabasters were probably intended to be elements in an altar decoration. Such sculptural altarpiece installations were often simulated by painters.

Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    This figure belongs to a series of statuettes representing Jesus and the twelve apostles, most of them now preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The alabasters were certainly conceived as components of a structure in a church interior. Their shallow depth and flat backs could point to an original placement in individual niches, possibly in an altar decoration. For works of art created in the fifteenth century, the precise identification of some apostles can be complicated since the attributes they hold have been assigned to more than one figure. This saint with a club is most likely Saint Judas Thaddeus, also known as Jude the Apostle or Saint Thaddeus. Although all the figures in the series seem to commune with their respective attributes, this is the only one to embrace the instrument of his death with complete absorption, a compelling image of the intensity of religious devotion from the late Middle Ages.

    The sculpture contrasts with the roughly contemporary large-scale painted wood Crucifixion group from the Museum’s George Grey Barnard Collection. Even as an isolated figure, this diminutive apostle is a work of greater refinement and emotional expressiveness. In the fifteenth century, famous painters like Jan van Eyck are known to have designed sculpture, and they frequently imitated sculpture in grisaille paintings. Examples of simulated statues of Mary and the angel of the Annunciation appear on the wings from a triptych by Jan Provost in the Museum’s John G. Johnson Collection. Such paintings have long been studied by scholars and loved by the public. The statuette of Saint Judas Thaddeus is an eloquent reminder of the still obscure achievements of Netherlandish sculpture from the same period. Dean Walker, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 9.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.