King Solomon with a Quotation from Proverbs
Rosie Mills takes a closer look at a panel depicting Solomon and sheds new light on its context from the evidence of associated fragments.
Browne’s Hospital, Stamford, Lincolnshire; post-1489; h 1.16m, w 0.56m
‘A passionate man stirreth up strifes.’ So tells the inscribed scroll, whose curled terminal is pierced by the sceptre of Solomon (Fig. 1). More precisely, it reads ‘Vir iracundus provocat rixas. in p(ro)v(er)bis salo(monis)’, for it is a quotation from the Latin text of the Book of Proverbs (XV, 18). The opening line of the first chapter of Proverbs introduces the book as ‘The parables of Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel’. Although there is a potential ambiguity in the Latin that would allow the line to be understood as a dedication, this scroll can be interpreted as a statement of authorship, or authorial ‘signature’: in the context of this panel, Solomon is the author of the Book of Proverbs. That Solomon was the Book’s author was not a particularly unusual view in the Middle Ages – in fact, it was a view widely, if not universally, held. The preceding book in the bible, the Book of Psalms, was commonly attributed to his aforementioned father, King David; in addition, Solomon, as a biblical author, was also credited with the Book of Wisdom and that most mystical of love poems the Canticle of Canticles. A further scroll at the feet of the figure ‘Kyng (S)alom(on)’ confirms that Solomon is not only quoted but pictured in this panel.
Solomon is depicted as a well-dressed monarch of advancing years. His long, leonine, grey hair and beard tumble over his ermine collar. In an arrangement that emphasizes the sheer quantity of expensive fabric, Solomon’s fine cloak is caught up over his right forearm, revealing more of the fur lining that is visible where the cloak hangs proud of his right side. A broad crown with cruciform finials studded with pearls encircles a closed cap, the ermine border of which cushions the crown. Whereas the jewels here are picked out in relief against the yellow stain gold of the crown, those in the border of his robe are made with coloured glass inserts, a much more skilled and labour-intensive technique. The robe itself is painted to suggest rich pink damask, with a repeating pattern of radiate forms echoing those of the jewelled hem. The pointed toe of one of Solomon’s silk slippers has just slipped out from under his floor-length garment. The sceptre with foliate terminal, Solomon’s staff of office, completes his royal regalia.
The panel is part of a set of paired lights in the upper room of the wing of Browne’s Hospital in Stamford (Lincolnshire) that fronts the road (Broad Street). The almshouse was established by William Browne, a wealthy wool merchant of the city who had been an alderman of Stamford six times. Although the buildings were completed in 1475 (see Newton 1966 in Sources), Browne only received authorization to found and endow this charitable institution from Richard III in 1485. An earlier petition addressed to Edward IV (1461–83) survives, but was presumably never sent. Upon the death of William and Margaret Browne in the year 1489, management of the Hospital passed to Margaret’s brother, Thomas Stokke, Canon of York and Rector of Easton-on-the-Hill close to Stamford. Stokke reapplied to Henry VII; he received new letters patent to found the Hospital in 1493 and wrote statutes for its regulation in 1495.
Despite the survival of documentary evidence for the early history of the foundation of Browne’s Hospital, the dating of the stained glass is not straightforward. The glass of the chapel, on the ground floor of the wing facing the street, is inscribed with the names of William and Margaret and has been accepted as part of the original building programme completed in 1475. Yet a heraldic device in the glass of the main chamber of the upper storey (a shield of Stokke/Elmes impaling Iwardby commemorating the marriage of the William and Margaret’s grandson William Elmes to Elizabeth Iwardby c.1485) has been thought to indicate that the glazing of the upper storey is of a later date.
Both glazing schemes are, however, the product of the same workshop centred upon the Stamford Peterborough area. Richard Marks has traced this workshop’s distinguishing characteristics in buildings across Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, and the Soke of Peterborough. Examples include glass in the apse triforium of Peterborough Cathedral (Fig. 2), and the St Peter in the westernmost window on the north side of Stockerston (Fig. 3). All display the same figure style, motifs, and side-shafts with box-like niches. The side-shafts contain yellow stain lions rampant at St Neots, Peterborough Cathedral, and in the chapel at Browne’s Hospital (Fig. 4). Marks suggests the extensive use of drilled inserts (Fig. 5), is evidence that the workshop knew of the earlier work of John Prudde at the Beauchamp Chapel in Warwick (Fig. 6).
At Browne’s Hospital, the main chamber of the upper storey, with four two-light windows in the south wall overlooking Broad Street, is known as the Audit Room. It was from this chamber that the Hospital was managed, and the room still contains the original great chest where the seal and records were kept. Three of the windows retain medieval glass in their upper halves, above the transom. From east to west, they depict three pairs of figures. In the first King David faces St Paul the Apostle; this composition is repeated in the second window. The third window however portrays Solomon opposite a light composed of reset fragments from more than one figure. Like Solomon, the other figures are explicitly identified on the scrolls that curl behind their feet, and the scrolls that arc over their heads are inscribed with biblical quotations attributed to them. The fourth window is empty.
In the easternmost window, David wears a crown similar to that of his son Solomon, its gold and pearls executed in yellow stain on white glass, and he holds the same gold sceptre with foliate finial (Fig. 7). He wears an ermine collar, as does Solomon, and his ermine-lined cloak is thrown open as he lifts his right hand. The silhouette of his long, stockinged legs beneath his short red doublet stands out sharply against the pale lining of his cloak. The head of St Paul paired with this figure of David turns away; it is a replacement, identical to the head of Solomon, and was intended for a left-hand rather than a right-hand light. The testimony of the scrolls, which proclaim the figure is St Paul who wrote to the Colossians, is further supported by the attribute of a sword held in the figure’s right hand and by his bare feet; a similar representation of the saint with his sword can be seen in the tracery of the Royal Window in the north-west transept of Canterbury Cathedral, which also dates to the late fifteenth century (Fig. 8). The second window from the east in the Audit Room replicates the figures of David and St Paul with such a degree of accuracy that the same cartoons must have been used (Fig. 9). While the head of the second David is a modern copy, the figure of St Paul retains its original head, characterized by the eastern tonsure (shaved from the forehead backwards) with which St Paul was traditionally identified, in contrast to St Peter, who bore the western or corona tonsure.
In the third window from the east, Solomon’s counterpart is less easily distinguished (Fig. 1). The survival of a portion of scroll (of the same type as those at the feet of the other figures) inscribed with the name ‘[S]eneca’ is evidence that the Roman natural philosopher featured amongst these figures. The medieval tradition that St Paul and Seneca corresponded, leading to the latter’s conversion, has been observed by scholars in relation to the presence of this fragment here. The figure was previously judged to be one of the Four Doctors of the Church (St Ambrose, St Augustine of Hippo, St Gregory and St Jerome) on account of the distinctive cap on its head. However, an English fourteenth-century manuscript depicts Seneca wearing just such a hat (Glasgow University Library, Hunter MS 231/U.3.4). The cap is therefore not incompatible with the representation of Seneca, and there is no reason not to entertain the possibility that it identified him in the windows of Browne’s Hospital.
Richard Marks has further observed that a fifteenth-century manuscript containing a Middle English translation of the fourteenth-century Speculum Inclusorum known as the Myrour of Recluses (London, British Library, Harley MS 2372), includes quotations from some of the same biblical texts, attributed to the same personages. The verso of the flyleaf reads: ‘Thys ys a good bok ffor holy men or wemen, the whyche bok bylongeth to the almes-howse off Wylliam Brown in Stawnford in the dyocesse off Lyncoln, by the gyft off Sir John Trvs, chapleyn to the seyd Wylliam Brown sum-tyme and prest in the seyd beyd-howse.’ The correspondence of some figures between the windows and this manuscript is extremely compelling. The lack of correspondence between the manuscript and the precise quotations in the scrolls in the windows has been noted, but the fact that they are in Middle English while the quotations in the windows appear in Latin has not. There is therefore some distance between the windows and the manuscript, despite the location of both at the Hospital. Also, although the text of the manuscript outlines a code of conduct for religious people not formally bound to a religious order, it is primarily concerned with spiritual contemplation. The quotations in the Hospital windows, however, are not overtly contemplative.
The scrolls surrounding the figures in the Audit Room of Browne’s Hospital are inscribed with a curious selection of biblical texts. Perhaps they spoke more to the good governance of the Hospital (which was conducted from the Audit Room) than to the spirituality of its residents, whose dormitory was on the level below. The easternmost figure of King David is accompanied by the first verse of Psalm 111 (according to the medieval numbering of the psalms found in the Vulgate and adopted in the Douay-Rheims English translation): ‘Beatus [vir] qui timet dominum’ (‘Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord’). This is paired with St Paul’s scroll, which quotes the second verse of the third chapter of his Epistle to the Colossians ‘Que sursum sunt sapite non quae supra terram’ (‘Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth’). David’s quotation in the second window from the east is from the forty-third verse of Psalm 106 (according to the Vulgate numeration): ‘Quis sapiens et intelliget. Hec in psalmis’, a contraction of ‘Quis sapiens et custodiet haec et intellegent misericordias Domini’ (‘Who is wise, and will keep these things; and will understand the mercies of the Lord?’). The quotation with the second figure of St Paul is from the nineteenth verse of the third chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians ‘Sapiencia [enim huius m]undi stulticia est apud [Deum]’ (‘For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God’). As already observed, Solomon’s quotation in the third window from the east is from the Book of Proverbs (XV, 18): ‘Vir iracundus provocat rixas’ (‘A passionate man stirreth up strifes’). The text of the twin light is jumbled beyond recognition: ‘nor. potestate. Inperi. Ipiui. Ipium. Ipud. eius: a. fulve. In parabol(is). Seneca’.
A comparison of the image of this month’s panel with a photograph from 1962 (Fig. 10) reveals that the final light was considerably jumbled prior to restoration. The cleaning, rearrangement and releading by Dennis King in 1967 increased the legibility of the composition, but the inscribed scroll is less successful (Fig. 1). From the surviving glass, it is however possible to make further suggestions about the original arrangement of the panels. It is apparent that the name Seneca appears twice in the panel that is paired with Solomon, both before and after restoration (in addition to the name at the end of the reconstructed scroll, ‘Seneca’ recurs on a fragment at the reconstructed figure’s foot). However, it has not previously been observed that the name inscribed at the end of the large composite scroll is actually too narrow ever to have occupied this position. Rather, the width of its letters is identical to that of the smaller scrolls at the feet of the standing figures, which identify them by name. The last light thus contains evidence that there were once two lights containing a figure of Seneca (just as King David and St Paul appear twice). If this was indeed the case, then this has implications for the original glazing of the empty two-light window also in the south wall of the Audit Room (visible from the façade).
It seems that the most likely reconstruction of the upper part of the empty fourth window in the Audit Room is King Solomon opposite the philosopher Seneca. That Solomon also appeared twice in the Audit Room glazing is suggested by the identical head currently inserted in the first of the two representations of St Paul (Fig. 7); the presence of another foliate sceptre amidst the jumble of the light containing the ‘Seneca’ fragments (Fig.1); and the repetition in the reconstructed scroll of the words ‘in parabolis’. The nimbed head in the ‘Seneca’ light faces in the right direction to be paired with the surviving figure of Solomon in the adjacent light. It is therefore possible that the original arrangement in the paired lights of the fourth window is preserved, albeit in an extremely fragmentary state, in the third window. The accompanying quotations, however, may not be retrievable. The windows of the Audit Room are reminiscent of the fifteenth-century glazing of the church of St Cross Hospital at Winchester (English Kings, Doctors of the Church, and Archbishops of Canterbury), but are perhaps closer in intention to those of the libraries of Jesus College, Cambridge (inscribed scrolls), and St Albans Abbey (authors of works representing the liberal arts). The relation of the inscriptions of the Audit Room windows to the manuscript of the Myrour of Recluses owned by the Hospital is unclear and their deeper significance is elusive. The glazing programme therefore remains enigmatic.
Marta Powell Harley, The Myrour of Recluses: A Middle English Translation of the Speculum Inclusorum, Madison NJ, 1995
Penny Hebgin-Barnes, The Medieval Stained Glass of the County of Lincolnshire, CVMA (GB), Summary Catalogue 3, Oxford, 1996
J. P. Hoskins, P. A. Newton and D. King, The Hospital of William Browne, Merchant, Stamford, Lincolnshire, Stamford, n.d.
Richard Marks, Stained Glass in England During the Middle Ages, London, 1993
Richard Marks, ‘A Late Medieval Glass-Painting Workshop in the Region of Stamford and Peterborough’, in Crown in Glory, ed. Peter Moore, Norwich, 1982, pp. 29–39
H. P. Wright, The Story of the ‘Domus Dei’ at Stamford (Hospital of William Browne), London, 1890
P. A. Newton, ‘William Browne’s Hospital at Stamford’, The Antiquaries Journal, xlvi (1966), pp. 283–86