Statue of Saint Catherine of Alexandria from the Church of Our Lady in Kortrijk is not made of alabaster but of marble
Contrary to initial research assumptions, the fourteenth-century statue of Saint Catherine of Alexandria turns out to be made of marble and not alabaster. The statue has been recognised as a Masterpiece by the Flemish Community and is currently one of the highlights of the 'Alabaster' exhibition at M Leuven.
The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage conducted a material analysis on the statue in 2021 and wanted to determine whether St Catherine is made of alabaster or marble before starting conservation and restoration treatment. Both stone types are challenging to distinguish from each other with the naked eye. "The Institute deployed XRF analysis, which uses X-ray fluorescence to determine the chemical composition with a non-invasive method. Initial raw data showed elements typical of alabaster, but KIK-IRPA can now confirm that the sculpture is indeed of marble. This information was only known after the exhibition opening at M Leuven," says Hilde De Clercq, General Director a.i. of KIK-IRPA.
Meanwhile, the research procedure used was revised, and all previous analyses were also reviewed. This showed that only in the case of the statue of Saint Catherine of Alexandria from Kortrijk was there any confusion.The interpretation of the analysis results had no impact on the conservation and restoration treatment of the statue. The restoration techniques used, cleaning with solvents and filling in with an acrylic resin, are suitable for both alabaster and marble.
"In innovative scientific research, it can never be ruled out that a refinement of a research method is needed or that results are corrected; that is part of the process," says Marjan Debaene, department head of Ancient Art at M Leuven and curator of the 'Alabaster' exhibition. "The main thing is that there is now a rectification and that the research around alabaster is another step further."
A Catherine made of Carrara marble
An isotope analysis carried out by KU Leuven has since confirmed the origin of the marble used. It appears to be Italian marble from the quarries of Carrara in Tuscany. This is precious information for studying medieval sculpture and the use of Carrara marble in the former county of Flanders.
Lecture by Judy De Roy at Museum M
The Masterpiece by André Beauneveu (c. 1335- c. 1400), St Catherine, can still be viewed until 26 February in the 'Alabaster' exhibition at M Leuven. The sculpture will return to the Gravenkapel in the Church of Our Lady in Kortrijk.
On 9 February, Judy De Roy, head of KIK-IRPA's Stone Sculpture Studio, will lecture at M Leuven on the research and restoration of this unique sculpture. The lecture was adapted in the context of new developments.
More KIK-IRPA news
At the heart of the NEMO European Museum Conference 2023, KIK-IRPA played a crucial role in developing concrete tools to initiate a paradigm shift in the cultural sector.
Our colleague Wim Fremout coordinates the Belgian node of the European Research Infrastructure for Heritage Science (E-RIHS), supporting the interpretation, documentation, preservation, and management of heritage in Europe. Explore further on the new E-RIHS website.