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Cistercian art and architecture in the British Isles, ed. Christopher Norton and David Park, 453 pages, 190 b/w illustrations, p/b, Cambridge University Press, 2012, £29.99

Fig. 1. Cistercian art and architecture in the British Isles.

Fig. 1. Cistercian art and architecture in the British Isles.

This is an extremely welcome reprint of a book originally published in 1986 that has subsequently become both hard to find and expensive to buy second-hand [Fig. 1]. It also contains a new introduction by the editors.

Excluding the new introduction, it consists of eighteen contributions covering the development of Cistercian architecture and art, from wall-painting, stained glass, tile pavements and manuscript illumination to liturgy and music. For Vidimus readers, two chapters deserve special mention. The first is by CVMA author Professor Richard Marks, who presents a masterly survey of Cistercian window glass, by no means an easy task as few of their sites survived the Dissolution. One result is that only one Cistercian church in England and Wales retains any medieval glazing, that at Abbey Dore (Herefordshire). Yet notwithstanding this seemingly insurmountable handicap, Professor Marks skilfully marshals a mixture of other evidence, such as recovered glass from archaeological excavations, documentary sources and Continental examples to weave a comprehensive narrative. As most historians of stained glass will be aware, the Cistercians differed from other monastic Orders, such as the Benedictines and the Cluniacs, in their attitude to imagery in stained glass and the associated arts. Instead of revelling in expensive fittings and decorations, they preferred simplicity and purity. From about 1145, they laid down regulations that specified what was and what was not permitted in the window glazing of their churches, espousing white glass (grisaille) in preference to coloured glass.

Following discoveries in France it seems however that these rules were not easily enforced; a window of 1145–1200 at La Bénison-Dieu (Loire) has ruby bosses in the centre of the grisaille interlacing patterns. As no glass from this date has been found at Cistercian sites in England and Wales, it is impossible to know if similar exceptions occurred on this side of the Channel, although a late twelfth-century window incorporating coloured glass set in grisaille in the parish church of Brabourne (Kent) suggests that such designs were known in England around this time. The Abbey Dore glass earlier consists of excavated fragments leaded up into roundels. It dates from the mid-thirteenth-century at a time when similar windows were being installed in non-Cistercian foundations such as Salisbury Cathedral and York Minster. During the last third of that century, figures started to appear in Cistercian windows in German-speaking lands, and although no glass survives in England from this period, the appearance of figural subjects in the vault bosses at Hailes Abbey (Gloucestershire) suggests that similar changes may have been afoot in England as well. Coloured glass was certainly used at Tintern Abbey (Monmouthshire) around 1288, when heraldry commemorating its founder, Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk (1270–1306) appeared in the east window.

Fig. 2. St John, parish church of Our Lady, Merevale.

Fig. 2. St John, parish church of Our Lady, Merevale.

The most impressive Cistercian glass can be found at the former chapel at the gates (capella ante portas) of the demolished Merevale Abbey (Warwickshire), now the parish church of Our Lady. It is not in situ and may have been moved to its current location after the Dissolution. It consists of main and tracery lights from a fine Tree of Jesse scheme, thought to have been painted c.1320–40 by the same workshop that made glass for the Latin Chapel at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. The same church also retains some early sixteenth-century figures of Apostles in the tracery lights of a window in the north chancel chapel [Fig. 2]. The most interesting remains of Cistercian parochial glazing can be found at Old Warden (Bedfordshire); these include the only figure of a Cistercian abbot so far recorded in English medieval glass.

Fig. 3. Adoring angels, east window, Hailes Church.

Fig. 3. Adoring angels, east window, Hailes Church.

The second chapter highlighted here is by Professor David Park, the co-ordinator of the UK’s National Survey of Medieval Wall Painting. As with stained glass, survival rates for wall paintings are poor. Among important survivals are white masonry patterns at Fountains Abbey (Yorkshire) and extensive remains of red paintwork at Cleeve Abbey (Somerset). Both in the original chapter, and in the introduction to the present reprint, Professor Park discusses possible relationships between some wall paintings and stained glass, a subject that deserves further study. One example given is that of wall paintings of censing angels flanking the east window at the chapel at the gates at Hailes Abbey, which may have been originally adored a subject in the window, possibly a Virgin and Child [Fig. 3].

The new introduction cites two recently discovered wall paintings: paintings of kneeling figures at Merevale, which possibly originally adored a now-lost image in the stained glass of an oculus, and a wall painting of white interlaced circles at Tysoe (Warwickshire), which seems to mirror early Cistercian glazing designs. Significantly both authors make the point that while some designs seem to have preferred by Cistercians, they were not exclusive to that Order: Cistercians may have copied from others and vice versa.

The full contents of the book are as follows.
•    1. Introduction
•    2. St Bernard, the patrons and monastic planning (Christopher Brooke)
•    3. The foundation of the British Cistercian houses (Janet Burton)
•    4. The chronology and character of early Cistercian legislation on art and architecture (Christopher Holdsworth)
•    5. The Cistercian attitude towards art: the literary evidence (C. H. Talbot)
•    6. The earliest architecture of the Cistercians in England (Richard Hasley)
•    7. The Cistercians as ‘missionaries of Gothic’ in Northern England (Christopher Wilson)
•    8. The architecture of the Cistercian churches of Ireland, 1142–1272 (Roger Stalley)
•    9. Cistercian architecture from Beaulieu to the Dissolution (Nicola Coldstream)
•    10. The twelfth-century refectories at Rievaulx and Byland Abbeys (Peter Fergusson)
•    11. Cistercian wall painting and panel painting (David Park)
•    12. Cistercian window glass in England and Wales (Richard Marks)
•    13. Early Cistercian tile pavements (Christopher Norton)
•    14. Cistercian metalwork in England (Jane Geddes)
•    15. Cistercian seals in England and Wales (T. A. Heslop)
•    16. English Cistercian manuscripts of the twelfth century (Anne Lawrence)
•    17. Liturgy and liturgical music: the limits of uniformity (D. F. L. Chadd)
•    18. Table of Cistercian legislation on art and architecture (Christopher Norton)
•    19. Tables of Cistercian affiliations (Janet Burton and Roger Stalley)
•    Bibliography

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