Exeter Cathedral

Colour and illusion in medieval sculpture

Most of the medieval sculpture we see today is incomplete. This is because it has often lost its surface finish of bright colour – paint and gilding – which was perhaps the most important aspect of the work in the eyes of our medieval ancestors.

Our expectation of sculpture today is that the viewer should be able to see the primary material out of which it is made. This derives from a post-medieval (specifically eighteenth- and nineteenth-century) attitude that valued ‘truth to materials’ above all else. By contrast, in the Middle Ages, viewers did not consider the interior, primary material to be the true form, but rather the exterior polychrome layers.

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A Lost Industry: Devon marble

Dead Man’s Bay, Dark Ashburton, Fossil Clouded Petitor, Plymouth Black, Pomphlett, Devon Siena, Prince Rock, Little Beltor Pink, Red Ogwell. The names are as diverse as the colours and textures of the stone to which they refer: Devon marble. Not a true marble, it’s quarrying and working was nevertheless an important aspect of the Devon economy throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (more…)

Modern and medieval: cathedrals as perpetual works of art

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‘An art that has life does not restore works of the past’, said the artist Auguste Rodin in his book-length love letter to the Gothic period, Cathedrals of France (1914), ‘it continues them’. I’m thinking about this as I stand on the scaffolding at Exeter Cathedral with my friends and former stonemasonry colleagues, looking at the replacement stones that they’ve carved and fixed into place. The work is exceptionally good, and carries a sympathetic medieval spirit but there is something undeniably contemporary about them too. This is as it should be, and indeed, unavoidable. (more…)