Reading Paul Binsky’s Medieval Death, Ritual and Representation , helped provide some of the answers to the likeness of Sir John. In particular, he highlighted issues around typifaction at this time and a further investigation lead to a realisation that the great majority of the tomb effigies of the period represented a standardised ideal rather than an actual likeness. Little, Charles T. and Wendy A. Stein state that ‘few sculpted heads of the Middle Ages were portraits in the modern sense. The reasons for representing the human face were far more various than recording the physical likeness of an individual. During the High Middle Ages, portraiture did not rely on likeness so much as attributes, coats of arms, inscriptions, and other identifying signs. Thus individual selfhood was subsumed in broader forms of corporate identities.’
The images below show just some of this typifaction, with figures showing a male face in repose, eyes open with mustache usually falling outside of a sculpted chainmail avontail.
Charles Alfred Stothard (July 5, 1786 – May 27, 1821), an antiquarian draughtsman whose body of work catalogued a great many of these sculpted effigies. In 1807 he was admitted a student of the Royal Academy, and in 1811 he exhibited there a picture of the death of Richard II at Pontefract, in which the costumes were depicted with strict historical accuracy. In the same year he published the first number of the ‘Monumental Effigies of Great Britain,’ a work designed to portray the changes in English costume from the twelfth century to the reign of Henry VIII. The work was issued in twelve parts, of which the first ten were prepared by Stothard himself; but the last two issued after his death were the work of other artists.
Some examples of Stothard’s attention to detail and his reference to remaining polychromatic evidence on several tomb sculptures can be seen in these careful studies:
One of the Stothard drawing brought my attention to a tomb located in St Boniface Church in the village of Bunbury, Cheshire, the Tomb of Sir Hugh Calveley c.1315 – 1394 is considered one of the best surviving examples of alabaster tomb carving in the north of England. Gardner, Arthur : Alabaster Tombs (Cambridge, 1940) states ‘this figure is typical of the standardised military effigy produced, with little variation, by the English alabaster carvers during the last quarter of the 14th and the first decade of the 15th century.’