Antwerp sculpture with Pharisees

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Ca. 1520
46 cm
35 cm
6 cm

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This oak-wood Antwerp sculpture group shows five Pharisees talking to each other. They wear long, richly decorated clothes and various turbans and hats. The expressive and characteristically carved heads have a disapproving expression; the sculpture was probably originally part of a Passion retable, in which they were depicted as opponents of Christ.

Pharisees studied the Tenach and the laws and customs of Judaism. In the Bible, they appear as enemies of Christ and the Gospel, and play an important role in him being sentenced to death on the cross. In his teachings, Christ is sharpest against the Pharisees, reproaching them for lack of humility, selfishness and insincerity. The Pharisees depicted, in their costly dressing gowns, represent this character.  

Dutch sculpture reached its peak in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, with Brussels, Mechelen and Antwerp as the most important centres. Antwerp in particular became an influential manufacturing city in the early 16th century and was known for its high-quality sculptures and altarpieces. 


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