29 7/16 x 9 3/16 x 5 1/8 in. (74.8 x 23.4 x 13 cm)
Medium and Support:
Wood, polychromy, gilding
Bertha Buswell Bequest
Location: Not currently on view
According to Christian legend, Saint Barbara was the beautiful daughter of a wealthy pagan named Dioscorus, who lived in Nicodemia (present-day Turkey) during the 3rd century. Fearful of losing Barbara to the outside world, her father kept her locked in a tower. She secretly converted to Christianity; when she told Dioscorus of her new-found faith, he reported her to the authorities. She was sentenced to torture and beheading—a decree carried out by her father himself.
In Christian art, Barbara is usually shown holding the tower in which she was imprisoned and a book, which represents the teachings that led to her conversion. Here, she also wears fine clothing that represents her wealth. A purse hangs from her belt, and she wears a golden crown.
This sculpture originally formed part of a larger late medieval altarpiece that included other solitary or grouped figures. Although beautifully carved, the last 500 years have taken their toll on both her appearance and structure. Old repairs have broken off or splintered, and both original and later paint and gilding are flaking, making her too unstable for continuous display. MAG staff is working to identify funds for her treatment so that she can be returned to permanent exhibition in the medieval galleries.
[Label text from It Came From the Vault exhibition, 2013]