Press Release

Statue of the Dead Christ on loan for the first time to Tate Britain from Mercers’ Hall for Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm

Close-up of the Statue of the Dead Christ

Close-up of the Statue of the Dead Christ c.1500–20

Tate Britain will show the Statue of the Dead Christ (c.1500-20) from the collection of the Worshipful Company of Mercers, which will be on loan to an exhibition for the first time since its discovery. This extraordinary example of pre-Reformation sculpture will be a key highlight of Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm, an exhibition exploring the history of attacks on art in Britain, opening 2 October 2013.

The Statue of the Dead Christ is unique in Britain and is recognised as one of the most important examples of sculpture to survive the violent destruction of religious reformers in the 16th century. It was discovered in 1954 buried beneath the floor of the Mercers’ Chapel during the clearance of the site following bomb damage. The crown of thorns, arms and lower legs of the sculpture are missing, most probably the result of a brutal attack at the hands of Protestant iconoclasts. The statue may have been buried to conceal it and protect it from further damage.

The work will form the centrepiece of a section of the exhibition exploring attacks on art motivated by religious change in the 16th and 17th centuries. The sculpture is a graphic portrayal of Christ removed from the cross with limbs shown stiffened by rigor mortis, his mouth ajar and carved blood flowing from his wounds. This powerful depiction exemplifies the immense power and hold over people that images could, and still can, possess. It was images such as this that reformers found dangerous and wished to eradicate.

Tabitha Barber, Curator, Tate Britain said:

“We are delighted that the Mercers’ Company is able to lend this unique work to the exhibition. Confronted by the statue today, its emotional impact is still such that the danger of such images feared by sixteenth century reformers- the confusion between the real and the represented, or the sinful worship of an image instead of God - is near enough to be imagined. This incredible loan will help us to explore the methods and motives behind attacks on art in Britain over 500 years.”

The Hon. Timothy Palmer, Master of the Mercers’ Company said:

“The Mercers’ Company is delighted to be able to lend this exceptionally powerful and moving figure to Tate Britain. Given the extraordinary story of its survival and rediscovery, few can doubt how lucky we are, both to have it and to be able to share it with all who visit the exhibition.”