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

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.

Ancient and Modern

All-Saints-Maldon-Triangular-tower-int

It’s a little hard to see from the photographs, but this is the rare, possibly unique, triangular tower of All Saints Church, Maldon, Essex. The top photograph shows two sides of the triangle as you stand looking up to the belfry from the third side.

 

It really is a proper three-sided, stone and flintwork tower supporting a hexagonal roof structure. In fact the three walls of the tower actually form an equilateral triangle and were constructed in the mid-thirteenth century from stone reclaimed from an earlier twelfth-century Norman built church.

It was interesting to find such a quirky tower enhancing a local parish church in what is an unremarkable, market town on the watery fringes of Essex, but .  .  .   there was more – striking mid-twentieth-century stained glass.

full-F-W-Cole-window

This stained glass was made by Frederick W Cole (1908-1998) working for Morris & Sons. Yes, that’s Morris & Sons which is not the famous Morris & Co founded by the William Morris. This stained glass company, Morris and Sons, was originally William Morris & Co of Westminster (also known as William Morris Studios). I can’t help but think that in our litigious times the chances of trading with such a similar name to a famous ‘brand’ would be nigh on impossible.

Generally, I am not a fan of twentieth-century figurative glass and I was surprised to find that this beautiful glass was installed in All Saints in 1950. Interestingly the style of the angels would not look out of place amongst late 1960s or early 1970s fashion illustrations yet perhaps Cole had been influenced by the earlier work of the Arts and Crafts stained glass master, Christopher Whall. For comparison some of Whall’s wonderful windows can be seen at Upton on Severn, Worcestershire.

Mid-20th-century-glass

The Unconscious Influence of Taking Photographs

Getting-the-shot
Photographer concentrating on getting the shot, oblivious of me who had just missed the shot!!!

I use photographs a lot for my work. I am always looking for inspiration from the world around me and use my camera to capture these moments. Recently, when reviewing and rearranging my current online shop collections, I recognised subtle influences from my photography. I had been searching through my various memory sticks of stored images to freshen up my product listings. It was clear from comparing dates on the files that after a few sessions of photographing some summer garden flowers, shades of peach started to appear in the pink scarf I was painting at the time. Although I was not directly using the flowers photos as source material their influence was quite obvious with hindsight – up until then peach was not included in my work.

Influences-colourful-flowers

I also opened my Bury St Edmunds memory stick.  There were plenty of photographs of the glorious stained glass in the cathedral, both motifs and colours from the glass I have since featured directly in my silk scarf designs. However, after working in the cooler tones of the glass for a few months I can see I gradually moved to a palette of warm, rich colours. This was not the conscious process as before but I think the beautiful rich red windows had left their mark. Looking at the dates on these files I think the autumn weather was also a factor.

Influential-reds

It hasn’t only been colourful images that have unconsciously influenced my work. When you are looking for a good shot you examine your surroundings with more attention and details so often overlooked are literally brought into focus. Shapes I hadn’t thought I had noticed at the time have been added to my stock of motifs such as the details on these sculptures.

Cemetery-shapes

In the end though sometimes there is no obvious inspiration for the colours of a scarf. With one of my favourites, this blue and green scarf below (long sold), I worked up the design layer on layer adapting my choice of dyes after each layer was steamed. A less controlled more serendipitous process.  .   .   .   .   .   .   but I had been recently photographing seascapes!!!

Petrol-blues

Stealing from the past – painting Silvia

Agnes-Ashe-clover-pink-close-up copyLiving in East Anglia there are many parish churches that still retain both medieval and Victorian church art. Painted rood screens and colourful stained glass provide a wealth of inspiration for my silk scarf designs.

I like to steal ideas for motifs and also re-work various colour combinations. Often I will just use a tiny part of a much larger stained glass window whether its from a Tudor pane or details ornamenting a Victorian light.

And, once I have created the whole design and transferred it to the silk I then steal colour combinations from a completely different medium such as the oil on board paintings of local medieval rood screens.

The finished work may not obviously look either Victorian or medieval in style, but if you look closely you may be able to spot a motif or two and recognise the ‘dirty pinks’ from the painting of St Lawrence’s robe.Silvia-square

Available from my online shop Agnes Ashe.

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.

A vast interior – Milan Cathedral

Sculptural-friezeThe impressive, ornate Duomo di Milano is unmistakable and familiar to anyone vaguely interested in medieval church buildings, but what about inside . . .  naturally it’s vast. The interior space can accommodate 40,000 people in the 12,000 square metres. It feels magnificent as you enter the immense, shadowy gloom from the bright Milanese daylight.

It is hard to capture the scale of the space which is dominated by the 52 pillars that make up the five aisles of the church, but a few shots down the nave to the altar and beyond . . .

and then standing in the transept to the right of the main alter looking across to the northern apse, encompassing the Altar of the Madonna and the Tree,  . . .

View-across-front-of-main-altar-to-altar-of-the-Madonna-of-the-Tree
Across the transept looking northwards to the Altar of the Madonna and the Tree.

and then turning around to face the altar of Saint John Bono (San Giovanni Bono) on the southern side of the transept, and you begin to get the idea.

Altar-St-John-Good-South-Apse
Altar of San Giovanni Bono filling the southern apse of the transept.

Milan Cathedral has taken over 600 years to complete and during those centuries various architectural and art styles have come and gone. Interestingly, although the Altar of San Giovanni Bono looks at first glance as if it was a whole, complete design created at one time by a single sculptor, it is actually a combination of sculptural pieces. The main figure of San Gionvanni Bono in the centre of this classical style altar, was sculpted by the 18th century sculptor Elia Vincenzo Buzzi around 1763. The statue stands beneath the inscription ‘Ego sun pastor bonus’ (I am the Good Shepherd) and it is flanked to its right by The Guardian Angel and to the left by St Michael. I liked the composition of The Guardian Angel grouping and thought it made an interesting photograph. Our guide simply walked past the whole altar affair, ignoring it and began to relate the details of the more famous Marco d’Agrate statue of St Bartholomew nearby.

Now back home, I have spent some time digging around in the literature and at the same time examining my photographs. I’ve discovered that the two statues flanking the central display were created by a different sculptor and not Buzzi. They are the work of Giovanni Bellandi and were carved 140 years earlier than the Buzzi work. If you look closely the Bellandi work is less stiff and formal than the Buzzi statue. In any case I just liked the idea of such a grand altar being a successful composite of more than one artist’s work carved over a century apart.

Another decorative element of the building that significantly adds to the drama of the experience is the beautiful stained glass.

Soaring 20 metres up towards the ceiling the windows are filled with stained glass some from the 15th and 16th centuries with more additions in the 19th century and some new windows commissioned as recently as 1988. Stained glass is more fragile than stone, and requires regular maintenance. The cleaning and repairing work began in the 17th century and has been carried out ever since.

Of course, over the centuries, many hundreds if not several thousands of people have worked to build and adorn the cathedral and most of them remain unnamed. In our individualistic times celebrating named, famous artists, it is refreshing to think of the extensive collaboration of these unnamed people, working together over hundreds of years, to create such a magnificent building as the Duomo.

 

Magnificent patterned floor
Magnificent patterned floor of Candoglia white, Varenna black and red marble (1584) designed by Pellegrino Tibaldi (1527-96) – laid by many hands.

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Catching up

At the end of last summer I started working on a mini collection of square scarves based on birds with a hint of stained glass in the design. At the time I posted a few photos of the work in progress.

Stained-glass-plus-bird

Of course, in the intervening six months, or so, I’ve been very busy creating similar but different ‘art’ and exhibiting the work at last month’s Art Fair in London.

But now, finally, following the initial steaming, more painting with dyes and a second steaming, the scarf ‘Cora Mahogany’ is finished.

Cora-Mahogany-bird

 

If you look carefully you can see the original bird of the first layer – just. It’s beneath the mottled brown.

 

Agnes-Ashe-hand-painted-silk-Cora-Mahogany-tied copy

And, to conclude, the scarf has been photographed and added to the shop.

 

 

Reds of July – colour inspiration from summer flowers

Hemerocallis-daylilyWhen creative folk talk about their sources of inspiration they often cite ‘nature’ or their local ‘natural’ environment. Observing the fading of some strong pink roses and the addition of July reds to my garden I thought I’d try out one of nature’s mid-summer colour combinations.

rosa Karlsruhe
Bright strong pink but . . .

fading to rich, muted mulberry tones.
fading to rich, muted mulberry tones.

I’ve been reworking my Tudor Bows designs and adding smaller pattern details from the painted fabric worn by the Saints and Old Testament figures so beautifully represented in the stained glass windows of St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

St Edmundsbury, Bury St Edmunds
One view of the heritage of East Anglia.
St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

With the form and motifs worked out I’ve taken the opportunity to work with those inspirational garden reds.

Tudor bows, but art nouveau colours

Dye-pots-bramleyAt the moment I am painting another scarf inspired by the Tudor bows seen in the stained glass from St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds. However, this time I’ve taken the bow motif and, with spring in the air, used some lighter spring pinks and greens.

Strangely, it was seeing this art nouveau ceramic tile that was the final push to make me mix up these seedtime colours.