IN SEARCH OF MEDIEVAL INSPIRATION: PART 5(i)
Figures 1-3 represent unique and famous images – rood screen scenes from the Dance of Death (Sparham Church). These scenes, from the southern half of the dado, are polychrome on panel and date to the 1480s (the Dance of Death had been in Europe from the early 1400s). The three skeletal figures have all had their eyes gouged out, the product of the iconoclastic destruction of the Reformation, adding to their hideous effect. Such destruction on medieval rood screens is usually directed at saints, but it reveals the indiscriminate nature of Anglican hatred. Figure 1 shows a skeleton rising from the grave and pointing to a font and, quoting the Book of Job, chapter 10, says, “I should have been as though I had not been born, I should have been carried from the womb to the grave.” The adjoining panel shows a male skeleton (Fig. 2) being offered a flower by his female counterpart (Fig. 3), with the inscription from the Book of Job reading, “Man that is born of woman hath but a few days and is full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower and is cut down.” The scenes being shown, momento mori fashion, are of baptism and marriage, respectively, and is an echo of the mood created by the horrors of the Black Death, and thus a reminder to the congregation of the brevity of life.
Fig. 4 Fig. 5
Figures 4 and 5 (drawing of Fig. 4) show a wall scratching of a devil on the furthest west arch nave pillar from Beachamwell Church and is thought to date to the mid 14th century. According to church information: ‘The Beachamwell demon displays an artistic talent and a facility for drawing (on a most intractable material) hard to equal, let alone surpass’, whilst Mortlock and Roberts comment on ‘the remarkable liveliness and quality of drawing, let alone the imagination’ (1985: 8). It is considered one of the finest and best preserved of its kind in the country.
Fig. 6 Fig. 7
Figure 6 shows a panel from the 15th century rood screen at North Elmham Church, of St. Juliana. Figure 7 is a detail of the bottom right-hand corner of this panel and shows a chained devil.
Figure 8 shows the head of the saint, but the bright light from the windows has highlighted destruction from the Reformation and the deliberate gauging out of eyes and mouth (and scratches over the face). The image remaining is, excluding the halo, and if one didn’t know better, a fine example of momento mori.
Fig. 9 Fig. 10
Fig. 11 Fig. 12
Figures 9-12 show the four sides (facing south, east, north, west, respectively) of one of the finest Norman fonts in England, that resides in Shernborne Church. It is ‘encrusted with plaited designs that even sheath the miniature corner columns. The bowl is round, with a square, decorated rim, and low each side there is a mask. There are two figures on the west face – one in a shoulder cape holding a trail from the interlacing design, the other seems to be plucking a fruit – suggestive of an Adam and Eve theme’ (Mortlock and Roberts, 1985: 111).
Fig. 13 Fig. 14
Fig. 15 Fig. 16
Fig. 17 Fig. 18
Figures 13-16 show the four sides (facing south, east, north, west, respectively) of another extremely fine Norman font, to be found in Toftrees Church. The church is not in a good state of repair, which is sad to see, a tragedy, as it has some fine features, including Anglo-Saxon quions in the west wall of the nave. I had to remove a large sticky plastic sheet which covered the ‘magnificent eleventh-century font with geometrical designs in high relief’ (Harrod and Linnell, 1966: 78) before photographing it. The porch doors were left open which either let a sparrow in, and which was flying about me, or in the hope that it would fly out. Mortlock and Roberts described the font as ‘one of the finest Norman examples in the country, its square oalmeal-coloured bowl has barbaric animal heads at each corner which hold the knotted ends of a knotted rope trail in their mouths. The patterns in the panels are highly individual, and it stands on five stumpy colulumns with cushioned capitals’ (1985: 138). Figures 17 and 18 show the quality of the decoration of the south-west corner of the font from both sides. I find the patterning on Norman fonts draws me and I hope to use it in my practice in the future.
I came away from Toftrees feeling somewhat down-hearted and thinking that something really needs to be done about this church.
Fig. 19 Fig. 20
Fig. 21 Fig. 22
Figures 19-22 show the four sides (facing south, east, north, west, respectively) of what Harrod and Linnell noted is a ‘famous Norman font’ (1966: 69), with sharp carving, to be found in Sculthorpe Church. Figure 20 shows the Adoration of the Magi.
One each corner of this font are the heads of lions (Fig. 23).
Figure 24 shows the Norman font at Little Snoring Church, which Mortlock & Roberts described as ‘superb .. round and richly carved’ (1981: 62) and that Harrod and Linnell considered ‘one of the most splendid Norman fonts in the county’ (1966: 71). Unfortunately, there appears to be green algae on it (observable above) and I think this ought to be removed.