Charles Alfred Stothard

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.’

The Sculpted Figure

I thought around about this time that I’d begin to look at approaches to the main effigy on the tomb. My focus at present is on the figure of Sir John and, if given the time, I will then look at Maude. As can be seen from the photos and the scanned data that I managed to obtain, there’s very little left to give me much of a clue as to the nature of the original sculpted form. Much of the problem stems from the nature of alabaster, a fine-grained variety of gypsum with a likeness to the much more robust and expensive marble. Its softness enables it to be carved easily into elaborate forms but makes it susceptible to damage and its solubility in water renders it unsuitable for outdoor work.

3D Scan data of the torso

Much of the production of alabaster centred around the Midlands of England, and the term Nottingham Alabaster can mean any produced from around the areas covering Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire. It is unknown where the Neville tombs alabaster came from. Although it is suggested that Sir John’s son Sir Ralph Neville, whose tomb is at Staindrop Church in the grounds of Castle Raby, obtained the alabaster from Tutbury in Derbyshire due to the family links with John of Gaunt who owned great parts of the county. Perhaps this is also true of Sir John’s tomb?

What remains is a torso without head arms or legs. I would hazard that at some point in time the effigy may have been levered off the tomb. There is damage on one side of the castellated sculpted stone border that has at some point been replaced in part with carved wooden copies. There can also be seen wooden blocks used to hold the torso in place; perhaps the majority of the major damage was done at this time – but this is just conjecture.

The Neville tomb showing carved wooden repairs to the surrounding stone work (to the left) and the extent of the damage to the top of the tomb.

The torso showing the level of damage and graffiti carved into the alabaster and the Neville saltire carved onto the surcoat.

Huddersfield University School of Art & Design Technologies of Drawing Conference Poster Submission

I’ll be posting some of the work I’ve done up to now over the next few days. Below is the Poster Presentation submitted as part of the School’s Technologies of Drawing Conference  (26/08/11)  with the Sculpture Network. The conference  marked the conclusion of a 4-day international drawing symposium for sculpture network artists, the outcomes of which shown to conference participants.

Conference Poster_1