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.


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 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!



Inspirational – Raphael and Botticelli

Just a passing thought on the similarity and differences when directly comparing a couple of famous Italian Renaissance paintings by two giants of the art world. What a difference 30 years makes? Then, add another five centuries to consider how we, now, respond to these images.

Firstly we have ‘The Birth of Venus’ by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) and below it ‘The Triumph of Galatea’ by Raphael (1483-1520).

the birth of venus
The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli c.1486
Tempera on canvas (172.5 cm × 278.9 cm)
Uffizi, Florence, Italy
The Triumph of Galatea
The Triumph of Galatea by Raphael c. 1514
Villa Farnesina, Rome, Italy

The two paintings depict different classical myths and yet each artist has devised interpretations that have a central female figure posed on an enormous shell. Initially I was looking at both pictures as inspiration for a beautiful palette as both paintings are worked with a very similar gentle, tonal range. Then it was the differences that struck me and made me ask why the Botticelli is so popular in our time (reproduced on all kinds of merchandise) compared to the Raphael. Yes, I know that generally Art Historians cite Raphael as more significant, but everyday contemporary taste leans towards the Botticelli. The flat, stylised, less naturalistic Venus appeals whereas the so-called advances made by Raphael in the ‘High Renaissance’ look more suited to a different era.

Is it how we actively ‘look’ at the world these days? With the advent of photography, the march of modernism and the subsequent development of pared back minimalism, are we so used to clean-lines, flat, screen-based imagery that overtly naturalistic art is not so appealing?

The Buzzard
Der Busant (The Buzzard)
Tapestry made in Strasbourg, Alsace, France c.1480-90
Made from wool, silk, linen, cotton, and metallic thread.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

I have read that it is possible that at the time of commissioning ‘The Birth of Venus’ as a painting (tempera on canvas), was the cheaper solution to a decorative, wall covering than a tapestry of the same theme. It is suggested that the flat style and the figures appearing to float in a plane in front of the background is to mimic the appearance of a tapestry. A late-fifteenth-century tapestry of a similar size was far more expensive. Interestingly, Raphael’s ‘Galatea’ is also a ‘wall covering’ as it is part of a series of frescoes decorating the walls of the loggia of the Villa Farnesina.