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.
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.
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?
Anyway two interesting pieces, perhaps more reredoses tomorrow!