Thursday, 31 July 2008

The Palm Sunday Cross

Ampney Crucis, Gloucestershire, originally uploaded by Vitrearum.

Quite a number of medieval stone crosses survive in our churchyards, when I say survive, very few are as complete as the fifteenth century example at Ampney Crucis in Gloucestershire which I show above. Usually all you find is a base and the stump of a shaft. Often people tell you that they were erected as a communal memorial for all those buried in the churchyards who had no monument. Well perhaps, but evidence seems to suggest that they served a liturgical as well as a commemorative function as stational crosses during outdoor processions, notably on Palm Sunday. One Palm Sunday it was customary for the people to gather at the cross while the clergy brought the blessed sacrament out of church in a shrine set on poles. The Passion narrative from Matthew's Gospel would be read at the cross, no doubt using the steps as a primitive ambo. Then the blessed sacrament would be carried in procession in a full circuit around the church, the clergy and people following. When they got to the main entrance of the church, the clerks carrying the sacrament would stop and raise the shrine above their heads. The people would enter the church under the shrine. The sacrament would then be taken back into church. The whole event was a symbolic recreation of Christ's entry into Jerusalem.

Anyway more in that glorious account of late medieval religion which is A. Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (Yale, 1992), pp. 23-27.

Here's a woodcut of a medieval procession of the Blessed Sacrament, just to give you a sense of what I have described:
Corpus Christi

Also few more details of the head of the remarkable Ampney Crucis cross. One side has a figure of Our Lady holding the infant Jesus:
Ampney Crucis, Gloucestershire

The other side has a representation of the Crucifixion, flanked by the usual images of Our Lady and St John:
Ampney Crucis, Gloucestershire

One of the narrow sides has a figure of St Lawrence and the other a figure wearing armour, perhaps representations of the donor who paid for the cross? Anyway the armour of the figure dates the cross to the first two decades of the fifteenth century:
Ampney Crucis, Gloucestershire

Lastly the exterior of the church itself:
Ampney Crucis, Gloucestershire

And some of the glorious fourteenth century wallpaintings in the north transept:
Ampney Crucis, Gloucestershire

Elevation Squints in screens

Church Hanborough, Oxfordshire, originally uploaded by Vitrearum.

One of the things I sort of obsessively look for and photograph in churches are elevation squints. These little openings can often be seen cut into the dado of medieval screens and were created to allow the faithful kneeling in front of the screen a glimpse of the Elevation of the Host taking place at the altar beyond.
Lyons Bibliotheque Municipale ms 517, fol 8r
There are loads of them about and they are of all shapes and sizes. Sometime they are crudely cut like arrowslits in a castle wall, sometimes care has been taken to make them blend in stylistically with the screenwork. They are for the most part amateur affairs and were very probably cut by the faithful themselves.

Below are some examples.
Church Hanborough, Oxfordshire:
Church Hanborough, Oxfordshire

Church Hanborough, Oxfordshire

Woodeaton, Oxfordshire:
Woodeaton, Oxfordshire

Cassington, Oxfordshire
Cassington, Oxfordshire

Lawrence Lew OP, has a wonderful view through the squint at Cassington:

Martin Beek has captured an elevation squint in use at Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire:

The fur Almuce - a long forgotten bit of choir dress

Newington, Oxfordshire, originally uploaded by Vitrearum.
This panel of glass is in the beautiful church of Newington in Oxfordshire. The glass dates from the early sixteenth century and was jointly the gift of Dr Stephen Barworth (died 1511) and Dr Richard Salter (died 1518), they were both fellows of All Souls College, Oxford and sucessively rectors of Newington. The image portrays one of them (we don't know which one) dressed in choir dress. He is wearing a pileus or doctor's bonnet on his head and you can see he has a very full surplice with long sleeves. Over the surplice he wears a fur garment which forms a cape over the shoulders, has a hood attached and two pendants that hang down at the front. This fur garment is the Almuce. The Almuce was a vestment of dignity worn by cathedral dignitaries and it seems also by those who had acquired a master's or doctoral degree from one of the universities. The type of fur used varied according to the rank of the wearer, grey squirrels' fur being reserved for canons and bishops. The almuce was still worn in some places during the Elizabethan period, but it gradually fell out of use to be replaced by the black silk tippet. In the Roman Catholic church it evolved, in most places in the mozetta or shoulder cape.

Here is another example, worn here by Master Thomas Butler (died 1494), who was rector of Great Haseley, Oxfordshire:
Great Haseley, Oxfordshire

More on the history and form of the Almuce here: P. Dearmer, The Ornaments of the Ministers (London, 1908), pp. 133-136.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The origin of two of Sir Ninian Comper's textile designs

The Gothic revival designer Sir Ninian Comper (1864-1960) was a master at creating richly decorated ecclesiastical furniture and interiors. Many of the elements in his design work, notably his textiles, were derived from medieval sources, mostly North European panel paintings. Here are a couple of examples:

This is Rogier Van der Weyden's exhumation of St Hubert, 1437-40, in the National Gallery:

Comper used the figure on the far right of this painting, in the red and gold coat, as the source for his 'St Hubert' brocatelle:

Another Van der Weyden panel, the Annunciation in the St Columba altarpiece of c.1455, now in Munich, was the source for another pattern.

The pattern of the bed hanging behind Our Lady's head, provided the pattern for his 'Van de Weyden'textile:

Incidentally both of these textiles are still available commercially from Watts and Co.
For more of Comper's textiles it's worth having a look in the Comper Flickr pool:

An expensive medieval glazing technique.

Warwick, St Mary, Beauchamp Chapel

I want to draw your attention to an interesting and innovative glazing technique that was developed in the fifteenth century. In many high status glazing schemes of this period, glaziers developed a method of leading-in pieces of coloured glass into a ground of white glass. This allowed them to add coloured 'jewels' to vestments and mitres, as in the examples above from St Mary's Warwick. Holes were carefully drilled by hand in the glass using a metal grozing iron and then the glass 'jewels' were leaded into position. Every time a hole was drilled in this manner, there was the risk of breaking the glass beyond repair and of course when multiple holes were drilled, as in the case of the mitre on the head of Thomas of Canterbury at St Mary's Warwick, that risk was higher still.

Gordon Plumb has one or two good examples of this technique on his Flickr photostream:

Stockerston, Leicestershire, nIV, 2a, leaded jewels in border of robe of St Clement
Stockerston, Leicestershire. Copyright Gordon Plumb.

Stamford, Browne's Hospital, Chapel, sII, 5b, Head of Virgin Mary
Browne's Hospital, Stamford. Copyright Gordon Plumb

Stamford, Browne's Hospital, Chapel, sII, 5a, head female saint
Browne's Hospital, Stamford. Copyright Gordon Plumb

A note on the glass at St Mary's Warwick. The glass illustrated is in the east window of the Beauchamp chapel, the chantry dedicated to Our Lady, built by Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. The glass was installed in the 1450s and was the work of John Prudde the royal glazier. Prudde is believed to have charged 2 shillings per square foot for the glass, making it among the most expensive glass of the period.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Medieval English encaustic tiles - some examples

Dore Abbey, Herefordshire, originally uploaded by Vitrearum.

A few examples of medieval encuastic tiles, starting with the wonderful low relief tiles at Abbey Dore, dating from the 13th century, with most of the examples of the 14th century.

Dore Abbey, Herefordshire
Abbey Dore, Herefordshire

West Hendred, Berkshire

West Hendred, Berkshire
West Hendred, Berkshire

Hailes, Gloucestershire

Hailes, Gloucestershire

Hailes, Gloucestershire
Hailes, Gloucestershire

Nuffield, Oxfordshire
Nuffield, Oxfordshire

Great Haseley, Oxfordshire

Great Haseley, Oxfordshire
Great Haseley, Oxfordshire

Two fragments of painted stone reredoses

This is just the sort of thing that gets me excited, a bit of stone with a fragment of painted decoration on it that gives us just a tantalising glimpse of the liturgical arrangements that once existed in our parish churches before the Reformation. Here are photos of two fragments of the type of altarpiece that probably existed in many of our parish churches, a simple traceried stone frame containing painted rather than three-dimensional images.

The first is at Buckland in Gloucestershire, a church that also contains some rather fine medieval stained glass too. The reredos was, it appears, a two-stage affair with larger figures below and smaller figures above, resembling, in fact, the sort of arrangement you see in the average window of the period. Sadly there is no trace of the imagery that appeared in the larger opening, but we have these two well-preserved, if rather crudely painted figures of angels occupying two of the upper openings. The colouring is extremely rich, the figures, as you see set against a dark blue background. The mouldings of the panel are decorated in a vibrant palette of blue, red, green and gold. What a shame the rest has gone.

Buckland, Gloucestershire, medieval reredos

The second fragment is in the atmospheric redundant church at Inglesham in Wiltshire. This church has an interesting connection with William Morris. His house at Kelmscott was less than ten miles away and Morris helped save this wonderful building from what would have been a disasterous restoration in the late nineteenth century. As a consequence of his interest in this and other buildings he founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and the church was one of the first the SPAB conserved. Anyway this restoration almost certainly assured the survival of the piece of sculpture I wish to discuss.

As you can see from the photo below, the east wall is painted with a whole array of medieval and later wallpaintings, post-Reformation texts overlaying medieval decoration and painted consecration crosses. Still inserted into the wall and probably in situ is the remains of a painted reredos.

Inglesham, Wiltshire

In this case the reredos appears to have used a combination of media and technique. The stone frame incorporated some three-dimensional sculpture (long gone) for which the painter provided a decorative background (right), but also tiers of painted figures too. The figures are rather worn, but their palette of greens and ochres and their slightly s-shaped posture suggests a fourteenth century date for the piece. To the right of the fragment we see a shaft that presumably supported an arch that covered a larger central image. I wonder how big the original composition was?

Inglesham, Wiltshire

Anyway two interesting pieces, perhaps more reredoses tomorrow!


Holme by Newark, Nottinghamshire 3

Welcome to the Medieval Ecclesiastical Art blog. England has around 16,000 medieval parish churches, buildings that are an important treasure house of medieval art and architecture. This blog is intended to be a modest exploration of some of these buildings and the works of art they contain. It is also partly intended to be a way for me to make sense of the large collection of photographs I have amassed on my Flickr page. I hope you enjoy it.

The photo I am beginning with is from the fascinating tomb of John Barton, a Nottinghamshire wool merchant who died in 1491. Barton (and I should add we are not related) built himself a manor in Holme-by-Newark Nottinghamshire and also rebuilt the adjoining parochial chapel of St Giles. His tomb, which he erected during his lifetime, is set in the place of honour to the south of the high altar. The upper part portrays him and his wife as they were in life, while the lower stage has this rather grisly cadaver.