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This book [Fig. 1] consists of sixteen papers delivered at a conference on Gothic art convened by The Index of Christian Art in Princeton in 2009. Essays about architecture and manuscripts predominate. It is a follow-up to an equally informative volume on Romanesque art published by the same editors in 2008 and reviewed in Vidimus 20.
Like its predecessor this book also includes contributions of considerable interest to scholars of stained glass, with three chapters deserving special mention.
The first, by the British CVMA author, Professor Richard Marks, tackles one of the most intriguing questions about English medieval art – is it possible to write meaningfully about a distinctive ‘English style’ imbued with national characteristics which set it aside from the art produced in other countries at or around the same time? Professor Marks traces the history of such ideas via a succession of books and articles from the post-first world war years to the present day, including works by Nicholas Pevsner and John Harvey. Like others of their generation, they claimed that English art was indeed ‘different’, drawing on concepts such as a temperate climate, political moderation, a distrust of fads, an attention to detail, a fondness for practical common sense, the light and shade of the countryside, even links between perpendicular architecture and phonetics (“the clipped sound of the English monosyllable”) to weave the case for a recognisable national style. The author points out that many of these arguments reflected the age in which they were appeared. Pevsner was a German Jew who embraced Germanic ideals until forced into exile by the intolerance of Nazism while Harvey flirted with extreme English nationalism. At the same time neither man was adverse to citing Celtic or British art in their definition of Englishness.
Recent scholarship has focused on the links, rather than the differences between English and Continental European art. The role of twelfth-century French glass painters at Canterbury, the introduction of French ‘band window’ designs into churches like York Minster in the late thirteenth-century, the impact of the central European international gothic style of painting in the late fourteenth-century and the work of Anglo-Netherlandish artists at Fairford and Cambridge in the sixteenth century have all been cited as examples of how so-called ‘English’ art was often continental in influence and sometimes in execution [Fig. 2]. Yet while earlier attempts to construct a distinctive English style of art at odds with wider European influences now seem unconvincing, Professor Marks concedes that there was, nonetheless, an English gothic style. He highlights some of these distinctive national traits or refinements which merit further study, including examples of regional variations in the church architecture.
The second chapter, by Professor Madeline Caviness, is a wide-ranging essay about the survival of gothic glass painting in the past five hundred years. Apart from the problems of corrosion and decay, iconoclasm and changing aesthetic tastes, she also draws attention to two less appreciated problems: the isolation and neglect of stained glass from the broader field of medieval art and the frequently appalling (my words!) standard of photographic reproductions of painted glass in many books. When one is added to the other it has often lead to indifference and ignorance. Her survey concludes with an updated case study of the history of some English medieval glass which was removed from Hereford Cathedral during the Civil Wars of the mid-seventeenth-century. Originally relocated in the chapel of Hampton Court, a private house in Herefordshire, it was acquired in 1925 by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where it has recently been restored. Ideally this chapter should be read in conjunction with her earlier article about the glass [See Further Reading].
The final essay is an intriguing study of the images of Ecclesia and Synagoga by Nina Rowe, previewing some of the conclusions developed in her newly published book [See Further Reading]. Such images are well-known to stained glass historians with examples surviving in a number of English and continental cathedrals. Generally speaking these female personifications of the Christian church (Ecclesia) and the Jewish church (Synagoga) are thought to symbolise the theological triumph of the New Testament over Judaism but Rowe goes further, arguing that series of sculptural images on the facades of cathedrals such as Reims, Bamberg, and Strasbourg in the thirteenth-century were deliberate political acts intended to intimidate and restrict the religious, social and economic lives of Jews who lived in such cities [Fig. 3].
The images humiliated Jews by showing their church – Synagoga – as docile and decrepit, providing visual confirmation of laws which defined them as members of a subservient class. It was also a time of increasing attacks on Jews as with Philip IV’s expulsion of Jews from Reims in 1306 and the massacre of several thousand Jews in Strasbourg in 1349. Although outside the scope of her chapter, such events are vivid reminders of how stained glass images might also have been read differently by different audiences at different times.
These chapters aside, the remainder of the book also contains stimulating contributions that make it of considerable value to art historians specialising in the Middle Ages. Authors include Michelle P. Brown, Caroline Bruzelius, Danielle Gaborit-Chopin, Charles T. Little, Stephen Murray, Amy Neff, Bernd Nicolai, Rocío Sánchez Ameijeiras, Lucy Freeman Sandler, Dany Sandron, Willibald Sauerländer, Katherine H. Tachau, and Giuseppa Z. Zanichelli.
M. Caviness, ‘Fifteenth-Century Stained Glass from the Chapel of Hampton Court, Herefordshire: The Apostles’ Creed and Other Subjects.’ The Walpole Society Publications 42 (1968—70): 35-60. See also Vidimus 15
N. Rowe, The Jew, the Cathedral and the Medieval City: Synagoga and Ecclesia in the Thirteenth Century (Cambridge University Press 2011).
To see more images visit: http://www.bluffton.edu/
Lincoln Cathedral has one of the most important collections of thirteenth-century painted glass in Britain. Survivals include the remains of a Last Judgement scheme in the north transept rose window, important grisaille patterns and panels showing episodes from the Old Testament. There are also important nineteenth-century windows by Clayton & Bell, Ward & Hughes and the lesser-known firm of Augustus and Frederick Sutton. Later additions include a memorial window in the Services Chapel dedicated to the crews of Bomber Command designed and painted by the York-based artist, Harry Stammers (d. 1902-69).
In the past it has been possible for visitors to the Cathedral to miss some of these treasures but thanks to this attractive guide, future visitors will have no excuse to be disappointed. The illustrations are excellent and although brief, the text is probably sufficient for most Vidimus readers.
Well done Lincoln!
Bamborough, Mark P. ‘The Dean’s Eye window of Lincoln Cathedral: its past history and present conservation’. (Unpublished MA thesis York University, 1995)
Binnall, P.B.G. The Nineteenth Century Glass in Lincoln Minster. Lincoln 1966.
King, D, J. ‘The Glazing of the South Rose at Lincoln Cathedral’, Medieval Art and Architecture at Lincoln Cathedral, (Conference transactions of the British Archaeological Association for 1982), 1986:133 -145 + plates
Lafond, J. ‘The Stained Glass Decoration of Lincoln Cathedral in the Thirteenth Century.’ Archaeological Journal 103 (1946):119-56.
Morgan, N. The Medieval Painted Glass of Lincoln Cathedral, CVMA (GB), Occasional Paper III, London, 1983.
O’Connor, David. ‘The return of the dove to the ark, Lincoln Cathedral’, in J Alexander and P Binski (eds) The Age of Chivalry: art in Plantagenet England, 1200-1400, exhibition catalogue, London, 1987, p. 528
O’Connor, David. ‘The crossing of the red sea, Lincoln Cathedral’, in J Alexander and P Binski (eds) The Age of Chivalry: art in Plantagenet England, 1200-1400, exhibition catalogue, London, 1987, p. 528-29.
Russell, G. ‘The thirteenth-century west window of Lincoln Cathedral’, in Heslop, T. A., and Sekules, V. A. (ed.), Medieval art and architecture at Lincoln Cathedral, (British Archaeological Association, Conference Transactions, 8) (Leeds, 1986 for 1982), 83-89.
C. Woodforde, A Guide to the Medieval Glass in Lincoln Cathedral (1933).
This brief book is a delightful introduction to one of the most important collections of renaissance painted and stained glass in England.
Its publication coincides with the successful reopening of Horace Walpole’s (1717-1797) ‘little gothic castle’ at Strawberry Hill in west London and describes how the son of Britain’s first official Prime Minister acquired more than 450 pieces of mainly Netherlandish glass to decorate his new home. Good illustrations of a selection of the pieces from the collection, organised under different headings, Old Testament; New Testament; Classical; Scenes from Everyday Life; Genre figures, English glass, add to the book’s attractiveness. An informative text by Dr Michael Peover, a former librarian of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, lifts the publication beyond the standard of a normal guide book.
To find out about visiting Strawberry Hill and seeing the glass in situ see the website.
A. Eavis and M. Peover, ‘Horace Walpole’s Painted Glass at Strawberry Hill’, Journal of Stained Glass, xix/3, 1994/95, pp. 280–313
J. A. Knowles, ‘Horace Walpole and his collection of stained glass at Strawberry HiIl’, Journal of Stained Glass, VII, 1937–9, pp. 100–10, 131–3, 192
R. Marks, ‘The reception and display of northern European roundels in England’, Gesta, 37/2, 1998, pp. 217–224
M. Peover, ‘Strawberry Hill… Horace Walpole’s Stained Glass’, Country Life, 26 October 1995
And ‘Strawberry Hill Forever: the restoration of a rampant lion’ in Vidimus 34.
Carved misericords are one of the most fascinating, yet perhaps least understood, aspects of medieval art. Some of the subjects they depict also have parallels with stained glass. The word misericord comes from the Latin word for Mercy and sums up the purpose of these wooden seats succinctly. The offices of the medieval church were rigorous with eight services held daily: Matins; Lauds; Prime; Terce; Sext; Nones; Vespers and Compline followed by the recitation of psalms, canticles and hymns. Such rituals were physically demanding as the participants stood for most of the time, often with their arms raised. From the end of the twelfth century onwards seats were introduced into the choir stalls of churches which, when raised for standing, provided a small projecting upper ledge upon which the occupant could rest while remaining upright through the long hours of prayer.
The consoles of these load-bearing blocks or brackets provided ideal surfaces for carving. From at least the thirteenth century, many were decorated with floral or easily recognisable religious subjects but in a number of well-known cases they also showed mythical beasts and scenes which range from the comic to the profane. These include stories of animals mimicking human behaviour, assorted fables (often featuring poultry), incidents of domestic strife with women thrashing men, vignettes of ale-house life, and faces peering through leafy woodland (often known as images of ‘the green man’) [Fig. 2].
Not surprisingly such scenes have often proved both amusing and intriguing – particularly as the carvings were intended for an exclusive area of the church – the choir – where they would be seen only by a small and devoutly religious audience. What was their purpose? Why did the church permit such apparently non-religious subjects at the centre of its devotional hub? A shelf of books has sought to explain these anomalies. Suggestions include the church ‘giving a free rein to carvers to show their skills’, something to ‘amuse monks on cold night’, and early instances of ‘toilet humour’ as people literally sat their bottoms on the carvings.
The value of this intelligent book is that it goes beyond these ‘modern’ explanations. Instead of accepting the images at face value it argues that they were part of ‘a shared ideology of those for whom the choir was the centre of their devotional life’ and ‘testaments to the way in which the apparently profane, playful or scandalous may stand alongside more explicitly devotional images as reminders that all things are created by God and should inform the way we perceive – and make our way through – God’s world’.
The clue to the meaning of many of the scenes lies in the devotional literature of the period – an area well known to the author, a Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University College and a leading member of the Misericordia International, an organisation established by Elaine C. Block (1925-2008) to aid research into medieval choir stall carvings (see Notes at the foot of this review). In his more than capable hands, clues to understanding these unusual images begin to unravel. Even so, difficulties abound as images can be understood or interpreted in more than one way. Thus a cock can be either portrayed as a symbol of pompous vanity (hence its frequent downfall) or as the bird whose third crow cleansed St Peter of the guilt he had incurred by his denial of Christ.
The great strength of the book is that it attempts to approach the images through the eyes of those who saw them and understood their meaning. Thus ale-house scenes become less Lowry-type observations of fifteenth-century life than rebukes against sin, temptation and wayward behaviour. Women thrashing men become not commentaries about domestic violence but evidence of medieval fears about letting women getting the upper hand and causing chaos by disrupting the so-called natural order of church and life. Symbols and moralities abound.
Some of this ‘moral’ imagery also appears into stained glass. The sixteenth-century misericords in Manchester Cathedral include a scene of a monkey inspecting a uroscopy flask, aping medieval physicians who purported to diagnose physical ailments by analyzing the smell, colour and opacity of urine. A similar image appears in the borders of an early fourteenth-century window at York Minster. In both instances satire took a back seat to sermonizing. Medieval preachers often likened Christ and the Church to physicians who cured men’s souls. The monkeys simultaneously ape the inadequacy of physicians, remind viewers of the need to care for the health of their souls on earth and sometimes seem to be looking through or beyond the glass to the spiritual salvation that only the church could provide [Figs 3 and 4].
Again, foxes dressed as preachers remind audiences against the dangers of false preachers, those who look the part, dress the part but who are not what they seem.
Professor Hardwick’s book left me wanting more – more text and more pictures. Thirty-two smallish pictures are too few for such an interesting and important book.
For more information about the Misericordia International, visit this website.
This month’s puzzle shows Abraham saying farewell to his nephew Lot after their respective herdsmen had quarreled and Lot and his wife decided to leave Abraham and settle near Sodom. The story is told in the Old Testament Book of Genesis, Chapter 13: 5 -12. The female figure is Lot’s wife.
For more images from Malpas see: William Cole, A Catalogue of Netherlandish and North European Roundels in Britain, CVMA (GB), Summary Catalogue 1, Oxford, 1993.
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URL to article: http://vidimus.org/issues/issue-55/books/
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