Donors in other media

Donor figures can be found in many objects made of different materials in the Burrell Collection.

Two examples on display are a beautiful limewood carving of the nativity scene and a tapestry showing four scenes from the life of the Virgin.

Burrell Collection - Limewood Altarpiece showing the nativity
Burrell Collection – Limewood Altarpiece showing the nativity

The limewood carving of the nativity scene is from the wing of an altar-piece and dates to around 1500. It comes from an area in southern Germany (Franken) which was famous for its very fine limewood carving. Limewood has a very close grain and cuts easily and cleanly. Other woods, such as oak, which was more widely used in other parts of Europe, have a strong grain and are very tough making it exceptionally difficult to carve in the same way.

Limewood Atarpiece - The donors
Limewood Atarpiece – The donors

The donors here are shown in a realistic pose on top of the wall looking down on the activity below. How different they are from Siegfried von Gelnhausen and his wife!

Burrell Tapestry - Scenes from the Life of Mary
Burrell Tapestry – Scenes from the Life of Mary

The Life of the Virgin tapestry is a fine and well-preserved example of tapestries woven in Switzerland in the late 15th century. It was originally an altar frontal from a convent.

The four scenes as follows:

  • The Visitation: Mary meets Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist. The tree between them is symbolic of life growing within them.
  • The Nativity: Here Joseph also appears as Mary kneels beside the manger. Above this scene the shepherds tend their flocks and are told the news by an angel.
  • The Adoration of the three kings from the east. One points to the star at the top of the tapestry. All bring their precious gifts and the third king has knelt down in front of the Child and his mother. In reverence to the Child he has taken off his crown.
  • The Presentation in the temple. Mary and Joseph (holding two doves for offering and carrying a long candle) stand in front of the altar and the priest, holding the Child, is behind it.

The four scenes are shown without any formal division and are framed by various scrolls with the texts in Latin based on St. Luke.

The little nun in the foreground of the tapestry is the donor. She may have woven it herself, or it could have been part of her dowry when she entered the convent. Her pose kneeling in prayer is quite similar to the representation of donors in stained glass .

 Detail of donor from Scenes from the Life of Mary

As in many tapestries from this period, the white of the eyes has been accentuated by the use of fine white linen. Below is an endearing cross-eyed angel!

Detail of Angel from Scenes from the Life of Mary
Detail of Angel from Scenes from the Life of Mary
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