Rare sculpture found on top of cupboard in National Trust house

A rare 15th-century bust that was thought to have been lost has been discovered sitting on top of a cupboard in a National Trust house.

The carved sculpture of the martyr St Agnes was found at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire as part of a cataloguing project by the conservation charity.

The walnut bust is though to be one of only 20 surviving artworks by Dutch sculptor Niclaus Gerhaert von Leyden or his workshop and the only one on display in a public UK collection, according to the charity.

The discovery was made by Dr Jeremy Warren, the National Trust’s sculpture research curator.

The bust will now be displayed in a dining room (Rah Petherbridge/National Trust/PA)

He said: “It was clear to me that the sculpture was of superb quality, with enough clues to lead us to look at the work of sculptors who were working in the later 15th century.

“My research took me to the surviving plaster cast of this bust, which tied up all the loose ends neatly.

“It has taken over 80 years for St Agnes to be given back her identity.”

The bust depicts St Agnes holding a lamb and would have once contained a piece of bone or another relic from the saint, according to the National Trust, however the relic has been lost and the cavity sealed.

The sculpture is at Anglesey Abbey (Rah Petherbridge/National Trust/PA)

It was bought between 1932 and 1940 by a former owner of Anglesey Abbey before being displayed on top of the cupboard after being wrongly recorded as The Virgin And The Lamb in an inventory of the house.

The St Agnes bust would have been part of a set of four sculptures featuring St Barbara, St Catherine of Alexandria and St Margaret of Antioch which were commissioned for the Benedictine Abbey church of Saints Peter and Paul in Wissembourg, Alsace, north-eastern France.

The discovery was made as part of a four-year cataloguing project by the National Trust which aims to record and research all 6,000 sculptures and statues in its collection.

Dr Warren added: “We suspect there are a lot of discoveries, great and small, to be made in the trust’s sculpture collections, and it is an aim of this project to winkle out as many as possible that will enhance the appreciation of this rather unsung part of our properties.”

The bust has now been moved from the top of the cupboard in a bedroom to be displayed in the dining room at Anglesey Abbey.

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