Friday, 31 October 2008
Thursday, 30 October 2008
The tiny thirteenth century church at Aston Sandford in Buckinghamshire has a single panel of medieval glass, a glorious figure of Christ in Majesty labelled as 'Salvator Mundi' (Saviour of the World), set high in the east window of the chancel. The panel dates from the final years of the thirteenth century, so it is more-or-less contemporary with the building. The colour palette is interesting. Notice that unlike fifteenth century glass, there is no yellow painting on any of the white glass in the panel. The process of achieving this yellow on white, called yellow staining, involved applying a silver oxide compound to white glass and firing it. This process only reached England thirty years after this panel at Aston had been completed. So the heads and hands and feet, which in later glass would be white, are here rendered in a pink glass with applied black pigment. The rest of the figure is rendered in rich greens, rubys and yellow all produced by the pot-metal process, where oxides are added to the molten glass during production, rather than painted on the surface of the glass. The figure is set on a background of 'stiff leaf' foliage that reflects the naturalistic decorative motifs in architecture of this period.
The exterior of the church, with the clapboarded tower.
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
Great Kimble church sits on the busy A4010 that links Aylesbury and Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire and hundreds of people pass by the church each day. How many are aware that this church contains a great treasure? A beautiful side chapel with fittings by Sir Ninian Comper, dating from the first years of the twentieth century. In truth it seems that the church people of Great Kimble are blissfully unaware of it too. The church guide book makes no mention of Comper and when I visited the church earlier in the year the chapel was being used as a dumping ground for all the rubbish it didn't want to store elsewhere. The altar was obscured by a couple of Victorian altar rails and stacks of chairs. Anyway once all this detritus is cleared away a beautiful Comper ensemble appears, which is the glory of this otherwise fairly ordinary building. Comper screened off this tiny side chapel from the chancel with Gothic parclose screens and placed in it a diminutive 'English' altar with iron riddel posts. Over it he has placed a tester, decorated with heraldic double-headed eagles. On the stone altar he has placed a lovely low painted reredos, decorated with a 'Vernicle' - Veronica's handkerchief imprinted with Christ's face is held between two lovely angels dressed in apparalled albs and amices. The altar is still adorned with its original embroidered frontal, the blue 'cathedral' damask now rather badly faded. The stonework of the east window is decorated with rich polychromy and the glass in the window is a Virgin and Child by Comper. The window in the south wall, an Annunciation (not pictured), is also by him. Both have a strong fifteenth century flavour, with a rich palette of yellow stain, and vivid blue, red and murrey. All in all this chapel is a glorious jewel-box and deserves to be better treated and certainly not obscured with rubbish.
A glimpse of the chapel through the parcloses that divide it from the chancel.
The interior of the chapel.
Detail of the altar
The painted altarpiece
The glorious embroidered frontal has sadly seen better days. It is worthy of conservation.
A detail of the frontal once again.
The east window.
Saturday, 25 October 2008
Friday, 24 October 2008
I'm not going to comment on the fabulous photos Davis has posted on his Flickr stream, I think these Comper vestments speak for themselves. The vestments are at St Mark's Philadelphia amd according to the commentary Davis has included with each photo, they were commissioned in 1904 by Rodman Wanamaker in memory of his wife Fernanda. They were worked in London by the Sisters of Bethany.
Detail of the chasuble:
High up on the tower at St Michael's church in Minehead in Somerset and looking out over the burial ground, is this wonderful little carved panel. It dates from the fifteenth century. It shows St Michael, the patron of the church, holding a pair of scales, weighing the souls of the departed. Our Lady stands prominently on the right of the panel, attempting to tip the scales in favour of the tiny soul that stands naked in the pan. On the other side of the scales a demon clings to the underside eof the pan, attempting to tip the scales in his favour and damn the soul within. Its a glorious image. Our Lady seems to be attempting to tip the scales through her intercession. A prayer scroll seems to be wrapped around the scales. Under her gown she shelters the souls of the faithful.
Monday, 20 October 2008
Now this is something that has always fascinated me, it fascinated me so much that I very nearly did my PhD thesis on this subject, before the stained glass of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire drew me away. At the very end of the Middle Ages, from around 1450 onwards I suppose, we see an increase in overt personal display by patrons of medieval English church buildings. We see an overloading of decoration on buildings and works of art with personal devices that exist to elicit intercession, but also refer to the status of individuals, to their occupation and their family alliances. This sort of display is particularly strong among the mercantile elite, among what you could call the nouveau-riche of the period. This sort of 'in-your-face' display is wonderfully represented by this fascinating structure, the Greenway porch and chapel at Tiverton in Devon.
This chapel and porch were constructed in 1517 by John Greenway (died 1529), the chapel was intended to serve as his mortuary chapel. The first thing you notice as you approach the church is that the chapel and porch are built of strikingly different material to the rest of the church building. The white limestone of the building immediately stands out.
As you approach the south door, you find yourself overloaded with information, which tell you more or less everything you need to know about the patron. John Greenway's coat of arms stands out in the position of honour directly above the doorway. In the spandrels on either side of the door are his conjoined initials 'J G' and they appear again twice above his coat of arms. You certainly know where he stands politically, his loyal allegiance to the Tudor cause is represented by two very prominent double roses. The display continues when you enter the porch (see above), for over the doorway into the church appear Greenway and his wife, kneeling at faldstools on either side of the Virgin Assumptive.
Returning to the exterior of the chapel, for the decoration of the chapel parapet, he has chosen to use decoration that refers specifically to his trade, his trade as a cloth and wool merchant and ship owner. The arms of his trade Gilds, the Drapers Company of London, the wool Staple of Calais, the Merchant Adventurers of Bristol all appear. As do some of Greenway's fleet. He is known to have had ships working out of Dartmouth and Bristol and here they appear.
Sunday, 19 October 2008
Forgive my absence from the blogosphere over the last ten days. It has been a busy time. Among other things I spent a wonderful weekend showing a friend around some of Lincolnshire's finest churches. More articles will appear over the course of the next few days. In the meantime, I return to my series on medieval stone reredos, with a the rather stunning example from Bampton in Oxfordshire. This stone panel, which still serves as the high altar reredos, dates from the very end of the fourteenth century. Christ in Majesty is flanked by figures of the twelve apostles, each one set under a separate canopy, each holding their attribute. Presumably this is a visualisation of the eschatological vision of Jesus in Matthew's Gospel: 'Jesus said to them [the disciples], ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel' (Matthew 19.28)
Dear old Nikolaus Pevsner is rather dismissive of the quality of this reredos, he describes it as 'rustic' and the figures as 'stumpy', I hope that Eric Hardy's photo of it proves that Pevsner is a little unfair. Agreed it has rather a naive charm about it, but I think it a successful piece and has a degree of visual power. Among other things note the remains of polychromy, coloured backgrounds and coloured highlights on the figures. The figures seem to have had gilded hair and the backgrounds were alternately red and blue.
Thursday, 9 October 2008
I hinted last week that the Saxon Virgin and Child at Inglesham in Wiltshire, was just a taster and I would return to discuss the delights of Inglesham church in greater depth. It is one of my very favourite church buildings, one with a special atmosphere, full of texture. It is the sort of building where you can see, layered up, centuries of liturgical change and also the changing approach to church decoration. So medieval wallpaintings appear from the crumbling plaster behind painted post-Reformation texts. Structural divisions, such as parclose screens remain amidst a sea of box pews. William Morris, who lived ten miles away from Inglesham, at Kelmscott in Oxfordshire, knew the church well and recognised its importance. In the 1880s he managed to rescue it from a drastic restoration. His campaign to save the building resulted in Morris forming of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), to prevent other buildings being over-restored. The church was conserved under SPAB's guidance in 1888-89 by J T Micklethwaite and was an early exemplar of conservation.
So what delights are there to see here. The building is a realtively humble structure. It consists of a nave with aisles, and a chancel with south chapel and a south porch. There is no tower, just a double bellcote on the west gable of the nave. Externally the church is rather rustic, the masonry is covered with limewashed roughcast. The Palm Sunday cross remains, although the cross head has gone.
Internally the structure is thirteenth century, the nave arcades have pillars with stiff-leaf capitals.
The chancel has a blank arcade on the north wall which is transitional, with round headed arches and stiff leaf capitals. This is clearly the earliest part of the structure.
Nearly every wall surface has some remains of medieval and later wallpaintings. The north and south walls of the chancel are lined-out to resemble masonry joints and painted consecration crosses remain.
On the east wall of the chancel we see layers and layers of painted decoration. A consecration cross overlayed with late medieval painted decoration, overlayed in turn with post-Reformation blackletter texts.
Everywhere there are hints of late medieval lturgical and devotional practice. Over the high altar the rood is panelled to form a tester of canopy of honour, formerly there was a pulley within this for the raising and lowering of the hanging pyx.
Parclose screen demark the place of former chapels, still free of pews. At the east end of the north chapel are image brackets and behind one is a painted backdrop and painted canopy.
Then add to all this,the post-Reformation fittings. Where there would hadbeen open space in the Middle Ages, are seventeenth and eighteenth century box pews, all of different dimension. They fill the centre of the nave and the chancel. Where the high altar once stood is a railed in seventeenth century communion table, the only hint of the medieval arrangements the remains of a painted stone reredos.
The church is no longer used for worship and that has preserved a lot of its atmosphere. It gives us a wonderful glimpse of how prior to the Victorian tidying up of church buildings, people lived with the very real presence of their medieval past in their church buildings. I love it.
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
Lawrence OP has posted some fantastic pictures of A W N Pugin's masterpiece, the Roman Catholic church of St Giles, Cheadle in Staffordshire. The church was built between 1841 and 1846 for Pugin's principal patron the sixteenth Earl of Shrewsbury. Built in the 'middle pointed' style the church is a wonderful romantic medievalist vision, a dark mysterious interior with soaring pillars covered in rich polychromy and a profusion of detail in metalwork and encaustic tiles. The church was also intended to express Pugin's liturgical ideal that the newly emancipated Catholic church would adopt the English medieval use of Sarum. So he incorporates objects such as an Easter Sepulchre (see below) that had fallen out of use in continental Roman Catholicism. Anyway Lawrence's photos speak for themselves and as always he includes an excellent commentary on each photo.
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
St Margaret's church in the remote hamlet of St Margarets overloooking the 'Golden Valley' in Herefordshire, has a remarkable survival. A complete early sixteenth century rood loft. You can't really call it a screen and loft, for in effect there is no screen. No rood screen was required in this humble building, as the opening between the nave and the chancel is a narrow Norman arch. Instead the loft is supported on two gloriously carved posts, resplendent with tabernacles, which presumably once contained three-dimensional images. The detail of the carving is in the west country tradition, with sumptuous, delicately undercut foliage and vine trail. Photos below.
Rood lofts are an unusual survival as they were legislated against in the reign of Elizabeth and fewer than half a dozen remain. Other notable examples are at Coates by Stow in Lincolnshire and Flamborough in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Rood screens, on the other hand frequently survive as they still served a practical purpose after the Reformation. The Reformed liturgy emphasised a two-room plan for church buildings. The chancel was reserved as the place for the sacrament and the nave as the place of the word and the remaining screens helped demarcate and differentiate these spaces.
This lovely little figure is in the east window of Messingham church in Lincolnshire, where it sits among a whole host of fascinating fragments of medieval stained glass. When I first saw this fifteenth century piece I thought what an interesting and unusual bit of iconography it is, Our Lord holding the nails of the Crucifixion. However, on closer inspection you realise that the head doesn't actually belong the body at all and that the hands and body are not those of Christ. Penny Hebgin-Barnes suggests that the body is that of an angel holding a pair of pliers, part of a lost passion cycle. All the glass in this panel was acquired in 1820 by Henry Bayley, rector of Messingham and originally came from the Collegiate Church in Manchester, now Manchester Cathedral. Hebgin-Barnes records that a 'very rich' window of the passion of Christ was extant in Manchester in the seventeenth century and suggests that the Messingham glass was part of it.
Bayley also pilfered (sorry acquired) glass from other churches. Including a couple of glorious canopies from Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire, one of which incorporates Christ Harrowing Hell, with Our Lord pulling Adam and Eve by their hands from the mouth of Hell. These glorious canopies date from the mid fourteenth century.
P. Hebgin-Barnes, The Medieval Stained Glass of the County of Lincolnshire (Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi, Summary Catalogue 3, 1996), pp. 181-184.
For those of you who wonder what has happened to the Inglesham post, never fear it should hit the blogosphere tomorrow.
Saturday, 4 October 2008
Yesterday, with the Revd Gordon Plumb as my guide, I went to the glorious estate church at Brocklesby in Lincolnshire. Brocklesby is a fascinating place. The estate is the property of the Earl of Yarborough and among its treasures is the stable clock designed John Harrison the inventor of the marine chronometer, which still keeps good time. The church is a treasure house of monuments to the Earl's family, the Pelhams, but it also has rather a lot of fourteenth glass, including the two glorious panels I want to draw to your attention. The glass dates to around c.1340 and is in the tracery of the window. In the first panel (see above) we see the head of Christ set within a roundel, and in the border a whole series of funny little figures, grotesque hybrids, with the cowled head of a man the legs of a ...well, what is it, a bird or a beast?
Then we have the second panel. In the centre is this funny looker and in the borders a whole array of different things, for or five hare, a fledgling bird on a branch and another one of the hybrid thingies. All glorious stuff.
These odd sort if images in borders, marginalia or 'images on the edge' as Michael Camille called them, were fairly common in the first half of the fourteenth century. The architecture and art of the 'Decorated' style is full of imagery, all part of the supporting decoration, that sometimes lightly and sometimes more strongly poke fun at life. People in this period obviously had a strong sense of fun and these images let a little bit of lightness into the seriousness of a church building and the worship that went on in it. Sadly as we move into the late fourteenth century this sort of imagery gradually disappeared and by the fifteenth century, in glass particularly, the images on the edge had become a lot more conventional.
I saw some more marginalia at Messingham a few miles down the road, so expect a second installment in a day or two.
P. Hebgin-Barnes, The Medieval Stained Glass of Lincolnshire (CVMA, Summary Catalogue 3, 1996), pp. 57-61)
M. Camille, Image on the Edge. The Margins of Medieval Art (London, 1992)