How times change!

Recently I have been sorting and collating and trying to delete some of my thousands of photographs. It’s what I call a New Year’s task and as usual I have already been completely sidetracked!

This time it was all St Gabriel’s fault or rather should I say the talented Victorian stained glass artist who created this work. I think it could possibly have been painted by somebody who worked for James Powell & Sons. It has an Arts and Crafts feel, and, the overall design of the complete window has a look very similar to the late-19th/early-20th century works by that famous, London-based stained glass makers.

It wasn’t so much the beauty of the window, although I really do love the restrained aesthetic of this style of glass, but I wanted to know who had made it and so the hunt began. I was sidetracked.

Disappointingly, I was not successful, however, I did come across a little thread of discord from 2005 regarding the taking of photographs within National Trust properties. The above stained glass window, that had captured my attention, can be found in the chapel on the Oxburgh Hall estate in Norfolk.

The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception and St Margaret. Architect J C Buckler. 1835

Inside the chapel there are a few artworks worth attention. There is the tomb of the 6th Baronet, Sir Henry Bedingfield, complete with a fine, marble effigy and alabaster tomb chest.

Marble effigy of the 6th Baronet, Sir Henry Bedingfield. 1800-62

There is also a further stained glass window by Thomas Willement, this time featuring heraldic motifs and . .

Heraldic stained glass window by Thomas Willement. 1838

there is an oddly, overblown altarpiece arrangement. This is not the original 1839 altarpiece. In fact the painted and gilded wooden structure we see today is a retable with wings that was purchased sometime in the late-19th century. It is unclear when and who put together the full arrangement with the upper retable, the sacrament tabernacle and the bottom, carved altar table.

As you can see from my photographs, when the wings are opened displaying scenes from the Passion and the life of St James of Compostela, the whole effect is unbalanced and out of proportion within such a small chapel. Flemish altarpieces from the sixteenth century are often seen these days in museums and art galleries, but originally they would have been erected in cathedrals or larger churches set beneath high vaulted ceilings and tall windows. Perhaps the entire Oxburgh construction was purchased during a moment of Victorian religious zeal. Strangely, according to the official guidebook ‘The retable was acquired by the National Trust in 1982 with the aid of grants from the Art Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Victoria & Albert Museum’ thirty years after Oxburgh Hall had been given to the National Trust. If you are at all interested in the baffling and convoluted arrangements for keeping some art accessible to the public you can read about the retable provenance here.

Now, after that minor digression, I come back to the issue of taking photographs, such as mine of the Oxburgh Retable, in National Trust properties. Back in January 2005, Simon Knott, who has made a fine photographic record of much of East Anglia’s church art, was visiting Oxburgh Hall. And, in 2005 photography was not allowed inside any National Trust properties for ‘security reasons’. However, Mr Knott attempted to photograph inside the chapel and was caught by the room steward. Mr Knott subsequently recounted this episode on his website. He was mildly critical of the NT’s over zealous no photography policy and then latterly received a sharp slap down in reply. Below is a glimpse back to those pre-selfie, pre-Instagram days!

Postcript, June 2005: Teresa Squires, House Steward at the Hall, was alerted by, as she put it, ‘a concerned National Trust volunteer’, and contacted me [Simon Knott] : I am most concerned about your puerile comments regarding the “sneak” photography. The National Trust has a No Photography rule for a number of good reasons, of which one is security. If you had taken the trouble to enquire of the steward, you would have found out that the No Photography rule only applies during public visiting hours, and an arrangement can be made to photograph for bona fide reasons at another time. Your irresponsible attitude is likely to cause others to think they can buck the system with impunity. Remember, the National Trust is a conservation charity, not a subsidised Government organisation. Yes, it is most unlikely that someone will steal this particular altarpiece, but art crime is on the increase everywhere. If you are truly concerned with recording and disseminating knowledge of church history, I would expect you to show a little more respect.

From commentary by Simon Knott

How times have changed! Fortunately, in 2009 the National Trust changed their policy regarding photographs. It is, of course, still no flash photography (so damaging to delicate artworks), but the sensible decision to permit paying visitors to photograph and share their experiences can only help attract more visitors to National Trust properties. Furthermore, sharing pictures of minority interests such as the needlework of Mary, Queen of Scots, can only be a positive addition to our shared culture.

Now it’s time for me to return to my original task and get deleting those underexposed, overexposed and just slightly out of focus photographs.

Stag – from ‘The Cavendish Hanging’ more information at Oxburgh Hangings

Kiss and Tell – Rodin at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich

Rodin’s world-famous sculpture ‘The Kiss’ is currently the centre piece of the ‘Kiss and Tell’ exhibition at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich. It is on temporary loan from the Tate and it is fascinating to see it spotlit at the centre of a dark, navy blue room.

‘The Kiss’ by Rodin. Marble. 1882

The inspiration for the figural forms of ‘The Kiss’, was taken from Dante Alighieri’s ‘Divine Comedy’ and are the lovers Paolo and Francesca. Originally, the design for the two lovers, together with precursors for other renowned Rodin sculptures ‘The Thinker’ and ‘The Three Shades’, were part of a major government commission. In 1880, the French government had commissioned Rodin to create large, ornamented entrance gates for a new decorative arts museum in Paris.

Photograph of the adulterous lovers, Francesca and Paolo clasped together in the second circle of hell, part of the monumental bronze gates cast two years after Rodin’s death in 1919.

The gates were to be over six metres high and were to feature forms inspired by Baudelaire’s ‘The Flowers of Evil’ as well as the ‘Divine Comedy’. The museum was not built, but Rodin repurposed some of the sculptural details to make stand alone pieces one of which became ‘Le Baiser’ the marble version of Francesca and Paolo and is known to us English speakers as ‘The Kiss’.

Also on display at the exhibition was a sketch for ‘The Three Shades’. The shades are the ghosts of dammed souls that stand at the entrance to hell and point to the sign “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”. It is always thought-provoking to see the creative processes behind a finished work of art such as preparatory drawings and small-scale models. And, indeed, when discussing his work towards the end of his life, Rodin said “It’s very simple. My drawings are the key to my work”.

The Shades approaching Dante and Virgil. Rodin. Graphite, sepia wash.

Another sculpture by Rodin in the exhibition shows a more formal, restrained style. This marble portrait bust of society beauty Mary Hunter, shows a polished and contained individual. I understand the societal constraints of the times, but I still think this is a chilly and detached piece especially in comparison to the vital, visceral quality of ‘The Kiss’. Mind you this could be partly due to the fact that, according to the exhibition label, the actual carving of the marble was carried out by an assistant working under Rodin’s direction.

Personally, I am not keen on this style of portrait and it feels too similar to a death mask for my taste. I much preferred another portrait head by Rodin, this time in bronze, of the popular Japanese actress, Hanako.

Head of Hanako. Rodin. Edition 5/12. Bronze. About 1900s (Hanako’s real name was Hisa Ohta, 1868-1945)

Apparently, Rodin, who met Hanako in 1906, was fascinated by the range of emotions the actress could portray with her face. Unfortunately due to the low light and darkness of the piece my photograph of this compelling bronze portrait does not do it justice. 

Supporting the main Rodin pieces were examples of various sculptures that either influenced Rodin or works that were influenced by him or had an obvious Suffolk connection. A portrait bust by Maggi Hambling of her tutor, Bernard Reynolds, falls into the last category. The original bronze was cast in 1963 whilst Hambling was attending Ipswich Art School.

“I studied at Ipswich Art School from 1962 until 1964. For my portrait of Bernard Reynolds, I worked in clay as he toured the sculpture studio, his head always tilted towards the ceiling, in the manner of an inquisitive, exotic bird”.

                                                                                              Maggi Hambling

The Head of Bernard Reynolds – Maggi Hambling. Bronze. 2011 cast from 1963 version.

St Edmund’s, Southwold. Revisiting Rood Screens, Suffolk VI – An unexpected offshoot!

Ettaline-mouse-PeterSometimes I stick quite closely to my source inspiration as with the first two of my recent Edlyn series of silk scarves. Picking a panel and details from one of the panels of the St Edmund’s rood screen and working up a design.

Et1But sometimes I get diverted.

After I have drawn out some patterns and motifs a few times I start to wander off down my own road. I think it is a similar to when authors say that their characters somehow take on their own lives beyond the control of the writer. I feel this scarf is my version of my ‘visual’ characters marching off in their own direction especially regarding the colours.

This affair is probably better shown than described. As you can see from the photographs, the outline drawing still has a feel of the medieval panels about it, but it is loosening and the choice of colours has clearly moved away from the rood screen originals.

The creative process is not entirely describable, but here is the finished silk on the frame.

Ettaline-mouse-finishedAnd, finally after steaming, Ettaline Mouse.

Ettaline-mouse-close-up

ettaline-mouse-composite

 

 

St Edmund’s, Southwold. Revisiting Rood Screens Suffolk V – Working from ‘David with harp’

Edlyn-slate-screenHere is another of my Edlyn series. Working with the same design, but this time choosing colours from another panel.

David with harp
Rood screen detail showing part of the panel ‘David with harp’ in front of the Lady Chapel of the south aisle. St Edmund’s Church, Southwold. Oil on panel with gesso and gilt original circa 1480, but heavily restored during the 19th century.

I rather liked the melancholy of the ‘David with harp’ panel and I thought the blues, the very pale grey, and the faded lilacs seen on the surrounding woodwork would make an interesting scarf.

Edlyn-slate4jpg

Adding more colour to imitate the golden feel of the original David panel.

Ed567

At this stage again as with the first of this series, the colours were all looking too clean and all more 21st century than 15th century. So I used my hard bristle brush again and swept lightly across the silk with a thickish greeny-grey resist over the blue.

Adding-black1

And, finally I added black dye to the background to give the overall design some depth.

Adding-black2

The piece was finished and ready for steaming.

Finished-ready-steaming

And here’s the scarf after a couple of hours in the steamer.

Edlyn-slate-composite

 

St Edmund’s, Southwold. Revisiting Rood Screens Suffolk IV – finishing the first Edlyn

Painting-Edlyn1When I last posted about my Edlyn series I had just begun painting the first Edlyn scarf.

Edlyn2With continual reference to my photograph of the Isaiah panel of the rood screen, I began selecting my colour combinations and mixing up the dyes. Then I started painting.

Edlyn3

As the colour was added the whole piece began to take shape.

Edlyn4

At this stage I felt the painting looked too flat and clean, so with a wide stiff brush I added sweeps of thick, brown resist to give a hint of ageing. Edlyn gold is now finished and awaiting steaming.

E-text

Edlyn-gold

St Edmund’s, Southwold. Revisiting Rood Screens Suffolk III

Screen-detail

Four years ago during the autumn of 2014 I blogged a sequence of posts relating how I was inspired by the Ranworth rood screen to create some silk scarves. Now is that time of year when I turn to looking at all those warmer, rich shades of autumn and feel the need to work with old gold and dusky damsons. Or, as Hilary Mantel so beautiful wrote “wearing their fallen fruit silks of mulberry, gold and plum” when describing the gentlemen’s clothing at the Tudor court.

David, Isaiah and Jonah St Edmund's Southwold
Part of the rood screen of St Edmund’s Southwold showing David, with harp; Isaiah, with book and Jonah.

Looking at my recent photographs of another medieval rood screen this time in Suffolk, there is much to admire and inspire. Despite its age, over 500 years old, the screen at St Edmund’s, Southwold still has a wealth of medieval painted panels filled with faded colour and I have found plenty of inspiration.

Firstly, I decided to work with a delightful motif repeated on the cloak of the prophet, Isaiah. I copied the motif and worked up a whole scarf design on paper before using three templates to transfer the completed work to a square, flat crepe scarf.

This part of the process is surprisingly controlled to ensure I get balance and movement across the whole scarf. Next it is time to add the specific details, drawing lines and shapes using the gutta resist. This part is a little more loose and random as the resist flows freely and quite rapidly from the applicator pipette.

Finally, once the outlining is finished and has completely dried the softer and unfettered painting can begin. This is the first of my Edlyn Series of silk scarves inspired by the St Edmund’s rood screen.

St Edmund’s, Southwold. Revisiting Rood Screens – Suffolk II

St-Edmunds-Southwold1

At heart I am a visual culture purist. I say this to forewarn you about my comments regarding the rood screen and pulpit of St Edmund’s Church in Southwold.

St Edmund’s is a beautiful medieval church built in the Perpendicular style. It’s full name is ‘The Church of St Edmund, King and Martyr’. The building we see today (suggested date 1413 in the church’s guide, but circa 1430 in both Pevsner and Mortlock accounts) was built on the site of an earlier thirteen-century church, a smaller building that had been destroyed by fire. According to the church guide during 1758 the foundations of that original building were located underneath part of the present church.

St-Edmunds-Southwold-porch

The straight lines of the Perpendicular style have been emphasised at St Edmund’s by the luxury flushwork of flint and stone. The linear quality of the building is doubly emphasised by the striking effect of an inlaid chessboard decoration on the west tower that is repeated on the exterior walls of the south porch.

From the appearance of the grand, ornate exterior it is evident that St Edmund’s was built at a time when the parish of Southwold and its environs had generous wealthy donors. This is confirmed by the quality of the surviving medieval interior furnishings that include the rood screen, the pulpit and the font.

St-Edmunds-view-to-chancel

Of course, the splendid, painted and gilded rood screen alone is worth a visit to the church, but there is also a fine pre-Reformation pulpit and a beautifully decorated and adorned hammerbeam ceiling together with the original, though defaced font.

St-Edmunds-Victorian-ceiling

Now here is the issue. Between its glorious fifteenth-century heyday and today, St Edmund’s, along with many East Anglian medieval churches, has had some turbulent, destructive times, and equally, some impoverished, neglected and generally detrimental times. The visit of William Dowsing and the iconoclasts in 1643 brought the first and substantial destructive episode which included the defacing of the font.

SOUTHWOLD, APRIL the 8th. We break 
down 130 superstitious Pictures ; St. Andrew ; and 4 
Crosses on the four corners of the Vestry ; and gave 
order to take down 13 Cherubims; and take down 20 
Angels ; and to take down the Cover of the Font. 

Quote from 'The journal of William Dowsing of Stratford,
parliamentary visitor, appointed under a warrant from the
Earl of Manchester, for demolishing the superstitious 
pictures and ornaments of churches.' Journal commenced
1643, Sudbury, Suffolk.

Defaced-font-St-Edmunds

After this deliberate, seventeenth-century image smashing came the long period of straightened times for Church of England buildings as the eighteenth century saw the rise of the Nonconformists and the subsequent fall in C of E congregation numbers. A neglected St Edmund’s functioned with a series of temporary curates as the chancel roof and wood of the east window slowly rotted away.

However, with the rise of the Evangelical movement across the course of the nineteenth century it was all change again. A widening interest in re-examining the medieval past combined with the Victorian’s obsession for progress, resulted in large funds being provided for extensive renovation schemes at St Edmund’s.

The attractively painted ceiling of the hammerbeam roof adorned with painted angels we see today is one such renovation scheme. The replacement ceiling is a fine example of nineteenth-century carpentry and decorative painting skills as well as an insight into how a previous generation reinterpreted our shared medieval past. The Victorians aimed for reconstructing a perfectly finished past whilst our twenty-first-century sensibility is all about the delicately preserved, authentic original however dilapidated and tatty it looks.

St-Edmunds-Angels
Painted roof angels – a Victorian interpretation of the medieval aesthetic.

Apparently, the colourful blue and painted details are very near to sketched records of the original medieval ceiling, but how fair a facsimile it is difficult to judge. That situation is brought acutely into focus when we turn to consider the ‘restoration’ of the medieval pulpit during the 1920s.

Medieval-pulpit-over-restored
Original medieval trumpet-stemmed pulpit. Disappointingly over restored in 1928 under the guidance of F E Howard.

Along with providing designs for the reredos, the lectern and the font cover, an ‘inspired young church architect from Oxford’, F E Howard (1888-1934), oversaw the restoration and painting of the pulpit. Sadly, the once elegant original medieval trumpet-stemmed pulpit is almost obliterated beneath thick layers of overdone paintwork and gilding.

Part-of-rood-screen
Part of the rood screen depicting the twelve Apostles. From the left St Matthew, St James the Less and St Thomas. Disappointingly a heavy piece of church furniture and a large floral display were obstructing a clear view of the north side of the rood screen.  Oil on gesso on a wood panel with gilding. 1480

Curiously, the writer of the church’s own guidebook gives special credit to F E Howard for making St Edmund’s interior the delight it is today. However, even the guide’s sympathetic author informs us that any desires by Howard to renovate the rood screen were not permitted.

FEHoward-font-cover-and-lectern-detail
The font cover (left) and a detail of the lectern (right) as envisioned by F E Howard (1888-1934) in a medieval style. Painted wood and gilding. 1928

Personally, I am very, very pleased he was stopped.

The rood screen at St Edmund's, Southwold, Suffolk
Part of the rood screen (the south side) at St Edmund’s, Southwold, Suffolk. From the left St Paul, St John, St James the Great, St Bartholomew, St Jude and St Simon. Oil on gesso on a wood panel with gilding. 1480

I have nothing against Victorian art and it is as much part of the history and culture of this church as the medieval art. Nevertheless from the our twenty-first-century viewpoint the Victorians’ well-meaning yet heavy-handed painting and renovations can border on vandalism. The repainting of the damaged saints’ faces by Sir George Richmond in 1874 are bad enough, but just think what Howard would have done in the 1920s to all that delicate gilding on the rood screen given half a chance.

Victorian-head-on-medieval-StPaul

As I mentioned at the beginning I am a visual culture purist and as such I appreciate seeing what is left of our medieval culture when it is gently conserved, but I do realise that a little active conservation is necessary. Of course, what we have left is still only an approximation of the reality of the past. Today’s impression for a visitor to St Edmund’s is nothing like the spectacle and mystery experienced by a medieval parishioner or even a Victorian church goer as all the medieval stained glass was blown from the windows by a bomb in 1943 during the Second World War.

Revisiting Rood Screens – Suffolk I

Three-hunting-dogsIt was just over 18 years ago that I spent several months visiting a number of medieval churches in East Anglia to photograph their painted rood screens. At the time I was working on the rood screens as part of my research for my Master’s dissertation. Often my mother accompanied me and helped out with the photographs. I was surveying the painted details found within the cloth of gold worn by the saints and prophets. She would patiently hold a cardboard scale slightly in front of the painted motifs embellishing the robes depicted on the screens. It was in the days just before digital cameras became widely available (and affordable!) and I had to wait for my film to return from the developers before I knew if my prints were a fair record for my work.

Page-27
Page 27 of my dissertation ‘Inspiration and Aspiration: The Patterned Silks in the Painted Rood Screens of East Anglia’. Photographs of the ‘hunting dog on nesting swan’ motif.

Following my recent house move my dissertation has surfaced. Looking for fresh inspiration I scrutinised the photographs I used to illustrate my text. What a disappointment! At the time I wrote and produced my dissertation the finished printed version appeared good enough, but compared to my photos today they are, well, of exceedingly poor quality.

St-Helens-Ranworth-St-Paul-side
Part of the rood screen at St Helen’s, Ranworth, Norfolk. From the left St Paul, St John, St Philip, St James the Less and St Jude. Oil on gesso on a wood panel with gilding. 1470s (recent digital photograph)

There are six rood screens in East Anglia that are particularly fine and are known as the ‘Ranworth Group’. These late-fifteenth-century screens include from Norfolk; St Helen’s, Ranworth; All Saints’, Filby; St Mary’s, Old Hunstanton; All Saints’, Thornham; St Mary’s, North Elmham and from Suffolk, St Edmund’s, Southwold. Maybe one day I will be back up on the North Norfolk coast and visit Old Hunstanton and Thornham again, but for my immediate needs Southwold is my nearest resource. (I have already been back to, rephotographed and worked from Ranworth – see here.)

The rood screen at St Edmund's, Southwold, Suffolk
Part of the rood screen at St Edmund’s, Southwold, Suffolk. From the left St Paul, St John, St James the Great, St Bartholomew, St Jude and St Simon. Oil on gesso on a wood panel with gilding. 1480

It is the case that the Ranworth screen is by far the best preserved, but Southwold is also in a reasonable condition despite some Victorian renovation work. All six rood screens of the Ranworth Group appear to have been made and painted by a single workshop. The designs and motifs for the cloth of gold used to adorn the saints and prophets probably came from the same pattern source book. If you look carefully at the examples above (Page 27 -apologies for the poor quality) you can see a dog with collar attacking a nesting swan. This motif is found clearly on five of the painted screens, the exception being North Elmham which was too dark and damaged to see the detail clearly. All measured 6 x 7 cm suggesting the motif was traced from an original source. There are other motifs and stencilled patterns that are also seen repeated on the rood screens, including the screen at St Edmund’s, Southwold, providing consistent evidence to support the long held view that a well-respected artisan workshop from Norwich created these masterpieces during the period 1470 – 1500.

Earlier this week I went back to Southwold to rephotograph its glorious rood screen and you can see from the image below that modern technology, a better camera and a better lens have enabled me to record this treasured medieval art as it should be done.Southwold-dog-swan

Sunflowers

sunflowers1There is something perennially charming about a jug of fading sunflowers. You can see why Vincent Van Gogh was so taken with them. Famously, he painted sunflowers many times including the seven ‘Sunflowers’ canvasses which were ‘nothing but sunflowers’.Sunflowers-detailOf the original seven sunflower paintings, five are now in museums around the world, one was destroyed in a fire during World War Two and one, amazingly, is still in a private collection. These paintings have been frequently reproduced and used to decorate all kinds of merchandise. I recently spotted these Vans on the Internet.Van-Gogh-Sunflowers-VansWhen I was younger I had a small print of this version below.

Van-Gogh-1888-Tyson-Philadelphia
‘Sunflowers’, Vincent Van Gogh. Arles 1888/1889. Oil on canvas. 92 × 72.5 cm Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, United States.

I copied these exuberant flowers onto a couple of metres of silk which I made into a top.

Nile-1992During the intervening 25 years, I, as well as the top have faded a wee bit, but here’s me earlier this year during the heatwave caught on camera mixing up some dyes wearing my old sunflower silk. It may have been very hot in Ipswich this summer, but nowhere the 45 degrees we had experienced in Egypt.

Me-working

A Derelict Delight – St Michael’s

StM-roof

According to my copy of ‘The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches – No 2 Central Suffolk‘ by D P Mortlock, St Michael’s Church in Upper Orwell Street, Ipswich, might not have an impressive exterior, but a visitor should not be put off because “within is a beautifully spacious setting for worship in the C19 Evangelical tradition”.

StMichaels-derelict-glass

As you can see from the photographs since the publication of the guide nearly 30 years ago St Michael’s has suffered extensive fire damage and no longer has any spacious interior. It is now derelict. In one of those twists of fate the irony is that in 1880 the first foundation stones of the church were laid on a site previously cleared of dilapidated, ‘slum’ cottages especially to make way for a brand new church. The architect of St Michael’s was Edward Fearnley Bisshopp and this was his only complete church. Within the remains there is still some original stained glass in two of the three lancets of the east window. It was made by Victorian glassmakers John Underwood & Sons. It shows St Paul, St John and St Luke oddly reversed as unexpectedly viewed from the exterior.

John-Underhill-and-Sons-Glass-saints

The three saints filling the other lancet are St Matthew, St Peter and St Andrew although it is hard to distinguish their attributes. Within the general body of Victorian stained glass this work is unremarkable and is of a plain workmanlike utility, but its mere survival amongst the ruins has endowed it with a special quality.

StM-glass

The overwhelming drama of the roofless church is the unexpected effect of seeing the exposed, jewel-like glass illuminated by bright, clear early evening light from the inside.

StMichaels-full-evening-sun

More photos of the interior of the church immediately after the 2011 suspected arson attack can be seen here.

Stealing from Tudor Artisans – Part II

Pheasant-motifLast week I posted about my discovery of a beautiful example of Tudor woodwork, the Parham fire surround.  I found the detailed carving inspirational and have developed a motif from one of the pheasants lurking in the carved vegetation.

Parham-dev

Here is more of the process shown in a few photos as the design is first outlined and then painted with dye, pink, old gold and moss green, on a handkerchief-sized piece of silk.

Silk-square-tiny

I was not convinced about the old gold so it was dropped when I expanded and transferred the design to a larger, 90 x 90 cm square silk twill scarf.

Full-more-pink-added

Moved-to-90x90

As I recently mentioned June is the month of roses and I do love a classic pink rose – I think that’s why I have been working with pink all this month.

And, the pieces are now ready to be rolled in paper and steamed for a couple of hours to fix the dyes.Pheasant-motif-Two