Sunday included a feature about a 14th Century alabaster statue of the Virgin and Child - a rare survivor of the tsunami of iconoclasm that struck England in the wake of the Reformation, when most religious images were either destroyed or lost. The British Museum acquired it last month and Ed Stourton talked to curator Lloyd de Beer about it. It does look a very lovely thing.
The statue, made in the Midlands around 1350, shows the standing Virgin crowned as the Queen of Heaven, holding a flowering branch in one hand and the Christ-Child in the other. Christ is holding a golden orb. The material is translucent white English alabaster - the statue being one of the earliest examples of English uses of that material. Though it's all a bit brown-looking looking now (due to having been lacquered at some stage), traces of the original paint emerged during restoration.
Such statues were still allowed under Henry VIII. It was only statues of Thomas Beckett (I think I can guess why Henry wouldn't reckon much to him!) and the Mass of St Gregory (wonder why? Something 'mass'-related?) and the like that were destroyed. Under Edward VI, however, all religious imagery was banned and the iconoclasts smashed pretty much everything - either destroying it completely or leaving it as rubble. It's because they were so thorough that so few such statues now exist.
How did this statue survive? The British Museum isn't sure. The Midlands artisans who made it did sell a lot directly to the continent at the time, so it could have gone straight there, or it could have been sold to continent at the time of the Reformation. It went via Belgium to France. It somehow survived the French Revolution, despite being removed from a church there. It was re-donated to a church in Belgium in the 19th Century.