Inspiration from the defaced and faceless


In the past I’ve blogged about the beautiful examples of medieval art in East Anglia not least the stunning rood screen at Ranworth. However, although many parish churches across the region still have their original rood screens often they have survived in much reduced circumstances.

village church Horsham St Faith
Church of St Mary and St Andrew, Horsham St Faith, Norfolk.

The Church of St Mary and St Andrew in the Norfolk village of Horsham St Faith is a fine medieval building. It is essentially a 15th-century church with some earlier 13th century features such as part of the flint and freestone West Tower dating from 1290. Inside the building, separating the chancel from the nave, is the rood screen comprising of twelve painted panels.  There is a dated inscription (1528) recording one William Wulcy and his two wives as the donors of the screen.

church interior rood screen
Twelve panel rood screen of St Mary and St Andrew, Horsham St Faith.

The church also has a similarly decorated pulpit with more painted panels. It’s accompanying inscription records the pulpit was painted in 1480.

Pulpit of St Mary and St Andrew, Horsham St Faith.
Pulpit of St Mary and St Andrew, Horsham St Faith. Tempera on wood panels, 1480

Like so much of the medieval ornate imagery of saints found in churches, both the pulpit and rood screen have been subjected to the iconoclastic forces of the puritan William Dowsing (1596–1668) and his followers.

At the moment I am working on a piece inspired by both the beauty of these paintings and the various examples of the defaced and faceless images that still survive. My own preference is for work that is either unrestored with all the fury of the scraped and scored faces still visible, or, panels that have been gently restored by restrained contemporary conservators.

Obviously, in the past there have been efforts at restoration with good intentions such as these carried out in 1978, but the heavy-handed often frankly amateurish repainting of the faces significantly detracts from the whole. And, in some cases the work is so bad it looks almost comical. (Somehow my photos, below, have softened this coarse attempt, but nevertheless the faces show no interest in capturing the medieval aesthetic.)