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

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Springtime in Holywells Park

Blackthorn-in-flower

Although I have finally moved into my permanent house and I do have a small backyard it will be some time before I can start to think about making a garden. Priorities have been sorting out my work and studio space, the main reason for moving, and trying to create a little order from the overwhelming chaos.

Springtime-in-Holywells
I think Holywells Park is my favourite.

Without a garden visiting the local parks has been very important to my sanity

and they are also a great resource.

Blackthorn-flowerDrooping catkins, bursting buds and the early blackthorn flowers are all potential motifs to be worked into a silk scarf design.

Winerack
The Winerack, the skeleton building on the horizon beyond the wintery, skeletal trees of Holywells Park.

It’s not just in the parks there’s plenty of new activity, but down on the Ipswich Waterfront building work on the skeletal ‘Winerack’ has begun after standing unfinished for over a decade.

Work-in-progress
Securing the site and painting all the boarding ‘Ipswich Town Blue’??? The Winerack, Ipswich Waterfront.

It will be interesting to watch the framework finally become a fully, functioning building. Perhaps it will be a stunning, remarkable piece of architecture, but however it turns out I suspect the good folk of Ipswich will probably always refer to it as The Winerack.

 

Old hands and newbies

BB-OneLast weekend and again this coming weekend I will be selling my work at ‘British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn’. The venue is a fantastic, timber-framed Suffolk barn dating from about 1550. Over its long history the Barn was used for threshing and storing grain. Indeed, the Barn was still used as a grain store up until 1985. It is a beautiful airy space with the massive timbers supporting a 30 metre long, thatched roof.silk-scarves.jpgDuring the course of the weekend it was a pleasure to meet so many people, especially some very talented crafting folk not least my neighbours, Karen, of Karen Risby Ceramics, and, Kerry, Kerry Richardson Designer Jeweller.Karen-and-KerryA big thank you to these experienced and accomplished designer makers for their warm welcome to this newbie to ‘British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn’.

BB-Insta

High summer, really?

Pink-hollyhocks

Well, before all the rain and unseasonal drops in temperature, it was that time of year where many gardens across the towns and villages of East Suffolk had plenty of flowering plants in their grounds and many front gardens were adorned by the splendid hollyhock.

Summer-hollyhocksYou couldn’t miss cottage gardens decorated with these colourful beauties, often self-seeded, thriving in the local free-draining soil.  This very blousy, double pink hollyhock was attracting plenty of busy bees in the sun between the recent showers. And, then the torrential downpours arrived bringing hard times for both bees and butterflies. Apparently, the jet stream is in the wrong place again!!

Bee-double-hollyhock

So, this is today’s weather .  .  .  .  .

Today-more-rain

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.

Winter visit to the beach

windy-weather-waxham

It’s been a hectic few weeks and it’s nearly the end of January and Christmas has faded into a hazy memory!! Finally, in a quiet moment I eventually uploaded photos from our visit to the beach on Christmas Day which is now a family tradition. This year we ignored the weather forecast of heavy grey skies with the odd shower and drove over to Waxham.

waxham-beach-sand

Naturally, as is often the way, the coast has its own weather and although it was very, very windy it was sunny skies and racing white clouds. It was delightfully refreshing. However, there was a downside and that was the occasional slap in the face from sand whipping along the shore. And, boy did it sting!

It seems each time I visit there are additions to and deletions from the sea wall graffiti. These new, free form ‘faces’?? may yet be filled with colour before the images are either painted over by the authorities or worn away by the winter waves.

update-waxham-graffiti

One poor little seal pup had missed the receding tide and was stranded on its own between the rocks at the top of the beach. I used a telephoto lens for this photo. The pup didn’t look too happy and I didn’t want to disturb it further by getting closer. We hoped all the dog walkers would keep their pets away too.

lost-seal

Immediately the other side of the sea defences, on this part of Norfolk’s east coast, farmland runs along the dunes. It looks a little odd to see sheep grazing on muddy earth, but they are actually grazing the brassica crop, which looks like it’s turnips.

sheep-waxham

Time to leave. Interestingly, and I’m not sure why but there were far fewer walkers this year than in previous years. Maybe the WRONG weather forecast had put people off!

leaving-waxham

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!

 

 

Summer seals

Horsey-beach-rocks-and-seals

It was very windy last weekend and the sea was rough with plenty of white horses. On the sandy beach granite rocks are strategically strewn across the shoreline in attempt to reduce erosion, but what’s that? – a rock just moved.

grey seals on the beach
A few members of the grey seal colony at Horsey Gap, Norfolk.

Walking down towards the sea we find members of the Horsey Gap grey seal colony flopped out and sunning themselves. Or, playing rough and tumble in the surf.

Or, simply having a little nap.

The seal colony at Horsey Gap on Norfolk’s east coast is popular with visitors in late winter when all the pups have just been born. We were surprised to find so many seals on the beach in August. Of course, there are always one or two of them watching the watchers. . . .

. . .  especially when some of those watchers come a little too close and then the whole colony clumsily, but speedily move a couple of metres towards the water and away from the nosey humans.

Humans-visitors

You can’t see in these photos just how windy it was, but every now and then a gust whipped up the sand stinging any exposed skin. It reminded my father of the Shamal that blows down from Iraq and across Kuwait almost continuously during June and July each year.

It-was-very-windy

 

High summer flowers – lilies, dahlias and hollyhocks

High-summer-lilies

August in the garden, even when not hot and sunny, has a very different palette to the pastels seen at the beginning of summer.

I used to have a bed filled with bright pink echinaceas and hot orange rudbeckias, but these prairie lovers have been squeezed out as my garden has matured.

I miss my prairie, high summer bed which is now in the shade of a Bramley apple tree. It really is a bit too gloomy, but I have strategically placed large pots of dahlias to give it a lift.

White-lily

Another part of my garden that has changed significantly is under the pergola. This area is now in fairly deep shade cast by the wisteria and a vigorous grape vine. However, towards the south-facing edge a blue hydrangea and some lily pots have just enough light to bloom, but they most definitely require regular watering.

I do love the scent of lilies, but in the end, on a dull August day, the vibrant, visual zing of a bunch of dahlias jolts me into remembering it is high summer after all.

Rich-colours-arrangement

Seen from a train

Summer-baked-FensJust over three weeks ago, when we had our mini heatwave, I was on a train crossing the Fens. It’s an agricultural and market garden region famous for being flat.

Fenland-green

Up to the 17th century it was wet, low-lying marshland, until drainage schemes transformed the landscape. The Earl of Bedford brought the Dutch drainage engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden, to the region and, with royal support from Charles 1, draining began around 1630. The King received 12,000 of the 95,000 acres of the reclaimed Fen land for the Crown .

Criss-cross-Fens

The process of draining was not entirely supported by the local population but gradually over the course of the 17th century the marshland became arable, workable farmland.  Eventually, over 300 years the marshes evolved into the Fenland landscape we see today.

The sepia picture was taken from the train. The original capture looked less interesting.

I had more luck when the train pulled into Ely and was stopped for a few minutes. One day I’ll get off and go and make a long overdue visit to the magnificent Norman cathedral known as ‘The Ship of the Fens’.

Ely-Cathedral-from-the-train

 

The Oxburgh Hangings

Stork-The-Shrewsbury-HangingOf course, the outstanding exhibit at Oxburgh Hall is the needlework hangings embroidered by Mary Queen of Scots, Bess Hardwick (Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury) and their ladies-in-waiting between 1569 and 1584.  These hangings were NOT actually sewn at Oxburgh Hall, but arrived some time in the 18th century along with Mary Browne of Cowdray Park, a wife for the 4th Baronet, Sir Richard Bedingfeld.

Kings-Room-Oxburgh-Hall-1973-shows-hangings
The King’s Room, Oxburgh Hall circa 1973 showing the Marian Hanging above the fireplace and the Shrewsbury and Cavendish Hangings on the four poster bed. The hangings are now in a special room with no daylight and hang in sealed, moisture controlled display cabinets.

These embroidered panels are a visual and cultural expression of Mary’s time spent during her imprisonment by Queen Elizabeth 1. As such these embroideries are of a wider historical interest and significance than any part of the fabric of Oxburgh Hall or any other content of the hall, but, sadly, sewing is not such a crowd puller as a moat!

The-Marian-Hanging-with-Marys-cypher
The Marian Hanging – so-called as many of these panels have either Mary Queen of Scots’ initials or cipher.
Virescit-Vulnere-Vitrus-Marian-Hanging
The centre square of the Marian Hanging shows a hand cutting down the unfruitful branches of the vine, with the motto ‘Virescit Vulnere Virtus’ (Virtue flourisheth by wounding).
Marian Hanging monogram octagon
This octagon above the centre square on the Marian Hanging shows the monogram ‘Marie Stuart’ crowned, with thistles, Mary’s cipher and motto ‘Sa Vertu Matire’ (In my end is my beginning).

In March 1569, three months into Mary’s stay/incarceration with the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife, Shrewsbury wrote of Mary

‘This Queen continueth daily to resort to my wife’s chamber where with the Lady Lewiston (Livingston) and the Mrs (Mary) Seton she useth to sit working with the needle in which she much delighteth and in devisisng works.’

From this we learn that both Mary and Bess worked together in the design as well as the execution of the embroideries. Many of the designs have motifs and Latin mottos taken from emblem books that were popular across Europe during the middle of the 16th century. It appears inspiration was taken from woodcuts printed in a selection of natural history books including ‘Icones Animalium’ by Conrad Gessner (1560), ‘Devises héroïques’ by Claud Paradin (1557) and ‘La Nature et Diversité des Poissons’ by Pierre Belon (1555).

Designs were drawn onto linen canvas and then embroidered. Coloured silks, silver thread and silver-gilt thread were used, employing both cross-stitch and tent-stitch, to create the finished pieces.

The present arrangement of embroideries at Oxburgh, mounted on green velvet, is believed to have been made sometime in the 18th century to create the three hangings. They are called the Marian Hanging (after Mary, Queen of Scots), the Shrewsbury Hanging (after Bess Hardwick) and the Cavendish Hanging (after Mary Cavendish, Bess’s youngest daughter). Individually, each embroidered panel may originally have been used for cushions and were sometimes given as gifts.

Some of the designs have hidden meanings for the imprisoned Queen, such as the despair of the yellow rose eaten by ‘canker’ (bottom right-hand corner of the Marian hanging but, sadly, it was too dark for me to get a photo in focus without a tripod!). Quite a few different birds are featured. They make interesting shapes to embroider, but, also, of course, a bird can always take to the sky, fly away, escape.

Not all the designs featured birds and animals from the wild. A few panels show domesticated animals and farm activities.

Whilst one or two panels depict mythical beasts in all their intricate glamour such as this cockatrice.

A-Cockatrice-Marian-Hanging
A cockatrice from the Marian Hanging. Such a mythical beast was said to be able to kill with a look!

This is only a small selection of all the beautifully embroidered panels. The hangings are in a small room with restricted lighting, but they do look so much better in real life than in photos. Well worth a visit.

The-Cavendish-Hanging
The Cavendish Hanging

Note – for any Art Historians who stumble across this post. There are currently two books available on the Oxburgh Hangings, ‘Emblems for a Queen: The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots’ by Michael Bath (2008) and ‘The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots’ by Margaret Swain (1973). For detailed technical information the V&A Museum is a great resource.

Scissors-owned-by-Mary-Queen-Scots
A pair of scissors once owned by Mary, Queen of Scots displayed in the King’s Room at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk.