Cardinal Wolsey – A Tudor Titan

four-wolsey-Angels2Cardinal Wolsey (1470 or 1471-1530) sadly ended his days being hounded by King Henry VIII and died in Leicester en route to London following his recall from York to be tried for treason. It hadn’t always been so as Wolsey had spent much of his life and good fortune entwined with the Tudors despite being born the son of a butcher in Ipswich.

Thomas Wolsey was clever and after attending Ipswich School he studied theology at Magdalen College, Oxford. Henry VII had made Wolsey Royal Chaplain, but when Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509, Wolsey’s intelligence, administrative competence and diplomatic skills began to be recognised and rewarded. He rose through the ranks, both ecclesiastical and secular, to become Archbishop of York in 1514, Cardinal in 1515 and Lord Chancellor of England from 1515 to 1529. And, he was passionate about the role of education creating the Cardinal’s College of Mary, Ipswich and Cardinal College, Oxford, although neither of which outlived him in their original form.

Charter-detail
Rampant griffin detail at the head of the Charter of Foundation of Cardinal College, Ipswich.

Despite all his accomplishments Wolsey ended his days in disgrace and was buried in ignominy in Leicester Abbey without a significant, grand monument to mark his burial.  In fact Wolsey had been overseeing arrangements for his eternal resting place including a design for a sarcophagus and accompanying sculptural adornments some six or so years before his death.

Wolseysangels450
Proposed arrangement for the tomb of Cardinal Wolsey as imagined by a Victorian Mr Somers Clarke, Architect to St Paul’s Cathedral in 1894.

By 1524 the sarcophagus had been made and the Florentine Renaissance sculptor, Benedetto da Rovezzano, was commissioned to create four bronze angels to complete the monument.

Wolseys-sarcophagus-used-for-Nelsons-tomb
Wolsey’s black touchstone sarcophagus eventually used for the monument to another national hero, Admiral Lord Nelson, and installed in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

However, despite these exquisite Renaissance angels being sculpted and cast by 1529 a year before the Cardinal’s death, the full memorial tomb was never assembled and erected in its entirety as .   .   .   .   .

Four-Angels-Wolsey
The Wolsey Angels by Benedetto da Rovezzano. Bronze about 1 metre tall. 1524-29. Claimed by King Henry VIII on the Cardinal’s death, hidden, dispersed and lost until reunited again in 2008.

unfortunately for the Cardinal he dramatically and cataclysmically fell from the King’s favour following his failure to obtain a divorce from Pope Clement VII permitting Henry to escape his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.

Wolsey-Angel
One of the two Wolsey Angels found in 2008 mounted on gateposts at the entrance to Wellingborough Golf Club, Northamptonshire. They joined the other two which had surfaced at an auction in 1994 simply listed as ‘in the Renaissance style’. The pair were subsequently attributed by the Italian scholar Francesco Caglioti to be Wolsey Angels by Benedetto.

There may not be the grand tomb in Westminster Abbey for Cardinal Wolsey that he had envisaged, but there is an engaging tribute to Wolsey in his home town of Ipswich. It is a commemorative statue by David Annand that I hope Wolsey would have deeply appreciated as it depicts him not only as the Cardinal, but gesticulating, as if in full flow, educating the world (or at least the good folk of Ipswich as they stroll up St Peter’s Street).

Wolsey-Educator
Thomas Wolsey by David Annand. Bronze. 2011. The text running round the plinth reads ‘Thomas Wolsey born in Ipswich 1470 or 1471 died Leicester 1530 Cardinal Archbishop Chancellor and Teacher who believed that pleasure should mingle with study so that the child may think learning an amusement rather than a toil‘.

 

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Inspirational medieval stained glass

medieval-painted-glass-Long-MelfordLast year when I visited the Great Church of the Holy Trinity, Long Melford, I knew it had some of the finest surviving fifteenth-century stained glass in England. Naturally, I made sure I had plenty of time to photograph the beautiful windows.

I’ve previously blogged about the outstanding glass filling the north aisle windows of this Suffolk ‘wool’ church. I’ve also examined the single donor portrait of Elizabeth Talbot, wife of John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, and the possible link to the John Tenniel illustrations for Alice in Wonderland.

donor-portrait-windows-long-melfordHowever, there are many more medieval folk represented in this collection of stained glass. Today, almost all of the surviving portraits of the original donors can be identified by visitors as, when the portraits were re-glazed to their present locations a small lite bearing each name was inserted beneath. These labels are a modern addition.

Modern-name-litesExamination of original fragments of medieval gothic script legends, together with any related heraldry and further evidence from the historical record, has enabled accurate contemporary identification, hence the useful labels.

frays-windowThe use of heraldry not only aids modern identification, but in medieval times confirmed the various family connections and associations, and, would have maintained the significance of these people in the eyes of their contemporary congregations. However, the principle reason the wealthy aristocracy commissioned these glass portraits was piety. They wished to be remembered in the prayers of the clergy and congregations for a long while after their deaths in the hope of shortening their time in purgatory. Heraldry-for-Elizabeth-Annes-Margaret

fraysLittle were they aware that the very notion of purgatory would be rejected within the next 100 years following the Reformation and the establishment of English Protestantism. And, never would they have dreamt that 500 years later visitors to their church would be just as interested, if not more interested, in the skills of the talented yet nameless artisans who created this costly and elegant glass.

I have found the windows a great inspiration and have used the colours and some of the motifs to develop a silk scarf design.InspirationBut somehow I still can’t quite capture the tone of the original creations!

stained glass medieval portrait
Anne Darcy sister-in-law of John Clopton and wife of John Montgomery. Late fifteenth-century stained glass, Holy Trinity, Long Melford, Suffolk.

John Berger – Look again

ways-of-seeing-coverEarlier this week, on January 2nd 2017, I heard the news that John Berger had died in Paris at the age of 90. There can’t be an art historian anywhere that does not know his work ‘Ways of Seeing’ as, along with Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, Berger’s commentary on art and imagery encouraged people to reappraise and rethink the way they looked at the world.

madonna-and-child-paintings-berger

John Berger wasn’t simply an art critic, he had originally trained as an artist at the Chelsea School of Art, but became an influential, intellectual voice through writing criticism, novels (he won the Booker Prize for ‘G’ in 1972) , poetry, screenplays and many non-fiction texts. It was, however, his fascinating BBC television series “Ways of Seeing” that established his presence in the 20th century Western cultural canon. I am too young to have seen this series the first time round, but all four, half-hour episodes are available to watch on YouTube – Ways of Seeing.

The iconic television series spawned the book. I still dip into my copy every now and then when the world of ‘visual media’ and its hysterical commentary feels like its spinning out of control.

In ‘Ways of Seeing’ I am intrigued by the three pictorial essays that are somehow mutable. Each time I return to them different interpretations come to mind.

Our principal aim has been to start a process of questioning.

This quotation, found at the beginning of the book, is the last sentence from ‘Notes to the reader’. Personally, I find the pictorial essays invite questions immediately. Without a guiding text a sequence of images can offer a story which we decode internally, non verbally, generating a response we interpret from our current cultural perspective. Sometimes we might look at these essays, work to extract conscious thoughts, devise a narrative that we then articulate, but not always. For me, periodically I have returned to these compositions aware of changes in my viewpoint. Then, having considered and acknowledged a newly adjusted outlook, I find the process of questioning begins again.

pictorial-essay-self-portraits

For an excellent overview of John Berger’s extensive and varied achievements please take a moment to read  Gerry Cordon’s piece.

 

 

 

 

Art for Christmas cards anyone?

st-mark-preaching-in-alexandria-gentile-and-giovanni-bellini

Years ago I received a charity Christmas card which featured what I took to be ‘The Three Wise Men’. Last month, at the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, I saw the very large Gentile and Giovanni Bellini painting, ‘St Mark Preaching in Alexandria’. This painting had originally been started by Gentile Bellini, but following his death it was completed by his brother Giovanni. It is a fascinating Renaissance Venetians’ version of an imagined Islamic Alexandria.

St Mark preaching in Alexandria by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini
‘St Mark Preaching in Alexandria’ by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini. Oil painting circa 1504-07. 3.47m x 7.7m Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

Whilst photographing some of the captivating detail, displaying both the vivid imagination and skill of the Bellini brothers, I noticed three bystanders in non-Western dress. Here were my Christmas card kings.

imagined-egyptians-bellini

There has also been a fashion for embossed, golden cards for Christmas. I’m not sure if this version of St Peter by Crivelli has been used yet, but the relief work depicting the keys and crosier could easily be embossed. Perhaps St Peter is looking a touch too joyless for Christmas.

Madonna and Child with Saints, San Domenico Triptych
St Peter part of the Madonna and Child with Saints, San Domenico Triptych. Carlo Crivelli 1482 Tempera and oil on wood. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

A small amount of gilt and glitz is acceptable at Christmas, but I think I prefer the more muted colours of frescoes. How about this fourteenth century painting by Simone da Corbetta. It fits the bill visually and would appeal more to a 21st century sensibility with the wan-faced, tall and thin female saints.

Simone da Corbetta part of Madonna and Child
Part of medieval painting – Madonna and Child (not shown), St. Catherine, St. Ursula, St. George and the donor Théodorico da Coira by Simone da Corbetta. 1382 Fresco transferred to canvas (235cm x 297cm) now at the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

And, finally, there’s plenty of inspirational, ornate sculptural work hidden away in churches. However, church interiors are frequently gloomy and a tripod (not popular with guides and security) is often required to capture an interesting, potential Christmas card image in focus or, maybe, not quite!

Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan
The Virgin Mary in Heaven – detail of relief in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan.

On a truly grand scale

front-duomo-milan

Sometimes a single photograph simply doesn’t convey the sheer scale and drama of a building. Last month I was staying in Milan and took the opportunity to visit the magnificent Italian Gothic cathedral – the Duomo di Milano. It is the fifth largest cathedral in the world and the third largest in Europe with only St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Seville Cathedral being bigger.

Even when you walk across the Piazza del Duomo through the tourist crowds it doesn’t ‘feel’ huge as unlike many other medieval cathedrals it is broad rather than tall. Then, the closer you get the magnificent marble façade looms and looms above you. The scale is best appreciated when a few humans stand in front of the mighty west doors – mille grazie soldati!

The church is dedicated to St Mary of the Nativity and was begun in 1386 and took over six centuries to finish. It is constructed from grey and pink-veined Candoglian marble that was ferried down a system of waterways from the Lake Maggiore quarries. From a distance it looks like an intricately iced cake, but up close you can truly appreciate the many marble statues and the fine ornate decoration.

There are 3,400 statues, 135 spires including 700 figures and 96 large gargoyles adorning the church. Looking up at the spires you might assume they were simply decorated with architectural, sculpted foliage, but in fact they are spires with multiple niches each holding a statue and finally each pinnacle is topped by another statue.

detail

Interestingly, such a vast and lengthy undertaking as building and embellishing a magnificent cathedral resulted in a collaboration between local Lombardy sculptors and workers from further afield including French and German sculptors.

And inside. . . The interior can accommodate 40,000 people in the 12,000 square metres – I think the guide below was just checking to see where they all were on this very, cold morning.

behind-you

A Wool Church – Holy Trinity, Long Melford, Suffolk

raphaelFor anyone seriously interested in exquisite fifteenth-century stained glass then Long Melford in Suffolk is well worth a visit.

wool-church-long-melford-stained-glass

Finished in 1484 the Great Church of the Holy Trinity contains a collection of some of the finest medieval glass in the country including a Lily Crucifix image and a rare roundel featuring a three hares motif.

suffolk-wool-church-holy-trinity-long-melfordHoly Trinity is one of Suffolk’s so-called ‘Wool churches’ as the erection of these buildings was funded from the profits of the medieval wool-trade. Advantaged Suffolk landowners prospered from the successful export of high quality wool and wool cloth to continental Europe and invested their profits building fine churches in the hope of facilitating a speedy journey for their soul through purgatory to heaven.

The medieval glass we see today filling the large ground floor windows features portraits of donors. These portraits would originally have glazed the upper, smaller, clerestory windows. For about 100 years during the 19th century some of this glass was used to reglaze the east window (1828) with more being installed in the west windows during 1862/3, however today these windows are clear. The present arrangement of the medieval glass, all along the north aisle, was carried out during the late 1940s.

across-to-north-aisle-holy-trinity-long-melford
Across the nave to the north aisle windows now glazed with the medieval glass that was originally in the clerestory windows.

The height of these lofty clerestory windows helped protect the glass from the various destructive onslaughts that occurred during the 16th and 17th centuries. The lost/destroyed stained glass would have consisted of biblical images and religious themes popular in the medieval period and similar to those of the Victorian glass found in the south aisle windows today.

victorian-windows-long-melfordIn the medieval period clerestory windows were filled with a variety of images from Old Testament prophets and local church dignitaries to ethereal representations of angels and archangels. Amongst the many surviving medieval donor portraits (to be explored in a separate post) there are two archangels.

Here, at Holy Trinity it is the archangels St Gabriel and St Raphael that have survived. They are both exquisitely painted displaying subtle and detailed work using silver nitrate stain. They have been painted by a craftsman that understood how to use the translucent quality of his materials to achieve an unearthly quality, literally letting the spirit/light shine through.

There is another little gem hidden away in the Clopton Chantry Chapel. One of only five examples in England, the east window of the chapel bears a ‘Lily Crucifix’ dated from 1350. Christ is not on the Cross, but is instead crucified on white lilies. The blue background and the white lily represent the Virgin Mary and the motif symbolises the joint suffering of Mary and Jesus.

Finally, an unusual and rare three hares roundel has been placed above the north door. This motif is believed to have come to Europe from perhaps as far away as China via the Silk Road. If you look carefully you can see that although there are only three ears each of the three hares has two ears!

 

 

An inspirational aquilegia

Aquilegia-inspiration

Long the love of monks scratching away in the scriptorium, the aquilegia, known to medievalists and monks alike as the columbine, has decorated scores of illuminated manuscripts.

st dominic illumination
Exquisite aquilegia from Saint Dominic illuminated page.
Flemish c.1510-1520
Tempera colours, gold, and ink on parchment
The J. Paul Getty Museum
Aquilegia part of the border decoration of a medieval antiphoner.  Mainz, c1490 V&A MS 609
Aquilegia part of the border decoration of a medieval antiphoner.
Mainz, c1490
V&A MS 609
























The various shapes and colours of aquilegias offer plenty of combinations to get the creative juices flowing. Their form can be rendered into simple, quite graphic representations. They are shapes I often return to.



Hello, hello - spot the fly!
Hello, hello – spot the fly!

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Agnes Ashe Green Silk Scarf

Painterly tulips, Balthasar van der Ast and May Day

Tulipa-Princess-IreneMy friends know I enjoy down time in the garden and little garden gifts are much appreciated. I always plant out everything I’m given, but sometimes the colours don’t fit well with a particular planting. This situation at first may appear disappointing, but in general, it is a bonus as I don’t feel guilty when I immediately cut them for the house.

Every spring these striking red and yellow tulips (tulipa Gavota) return and, despite plenty of background green, do not fit with the main pink, white and orange display in the back bed. Therefore, it is the chop!

On cutting and arranging them I was reminded of the Dutch craze for tulips in the seventeenth century and the many beautiful still life oil paintings of floral displays that included tulips. The above painting, ‘Flowers in a vase with shells and insects’, is by Balthasar van der Ast and now hangs in the National Gallery, London. Photographic reproductions do not do these type of paintings justice. With a close examination of the flowers in the painting I can clearly see an iris, some tulips, a rose, some carnations, a pale pink and white antirrhinum, and, more in the shadows a fritillary and a sprig of mauve lilac.

I don’t grow carnations and I have lost all my snake’s head fritillaries as my soil is far too gritty and parched, but I’ve just been out in the garden (May Day) and located examples of flowers in the painting. Although some are by no means in full bloom and others have nearly gone over, the snap dragons (antirrhinum Night and Day) have not even started producing buds! We all know that the professional growers can keep flowering back or force it forwards, just think what they do for Chelsea each year, and I’m guessing some of these skills are centuries old. But we must not forget that however true to life a work of art may appear it is still the product of the artist’s creative interpretation. All those different flowers may or may not have been together in that pewter jug sometime in May 1630.

And, this wouldn’t be a May Day post without a photo of the classic May-tree blossom – the hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) – commonly used for garlands (outside the house only) for a traditional English May Day celebration.

Crataegus-laevigata