The ecclesiastical wood sculpture owned by the Basel Historical Museum consists of 280 individual figures of Christ, the Madonna and 60 different saints. The origin of about half of these can be traced, whether to the place of their acquisition, to the locality or workshop where they were produced, or to their original location. The main emphasis of the collection is centered on Basel, its surrounding region, the cantons of Central Switzerland and the area along the Upper Rhine from Chur along Lake Constance and on to Baden-Baden. Most of the sculpture dates from the 15th and early 16th century.
Nonetheless, the display of six winged altarpieces and about 70 separate wood sculptures in the choir of the Barfüsser Church cannot adequately represent the rich decorations and furnishings of Basel churches that were destroyed during the Iconoclasm of 1529. The acquisition of wooden religious sculpture for the Medieval Collection began in 1856.
Large stone sculptures in the collection consist mainly of works made for tombs and fountains in Basel. The Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and early Baroque styles are all represented.
Small-scale secular sculpture from the 15th to the 17th century forms a third important category of the collection. Through these works and through other objects from the Amerbach Cabinet and the Faesch Museum the tradition of collecting can be traced back to the bourgeois cabinet of curiosity. Italian Renaissance bronzes, small-scale southern German sculpture, as well as single pieces of French and Dutch provenance determined an international orientation from a very early stage.
Among the small-scale sculptures the collection of several hundred plaquettes must be regarded as a category in its own right. It is one of the most significant of its kind because it includes entire collections that were already being acquired as such in the 16th and 17th century. The small-scale sculpture is remarkably heterogeneous, not least because of the diversity of materials used - stone, wood, bronze, copper, ivory, mother of pearl, lead, wax, plaster and clay. The collection is completed by several works made by two renowned artists of the 18th century, Aubert Parent of France and Valentin Sonnenschein from Wurttemberg.