Gothic

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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Inventing the Green Man

The medieval carvings known as the ‘Green Man’ – a face from whose mouth grow leaves and branches – are as a much a story of the twentieth century as they are of the fourteenth or fifteenth. This is because they were invented in 1939. The woman who invented them, by giving them the name, was Julia Somerset, who, under her official title of Lady Raglan wrote the first article on the subject. This is the starting point for our understanding of an image that has since become almost impossible to interpret or even define. (more…)

A Gothic masterpiece at St Endellion

I’d heard about the late medieval sculpture that exists in a handful of churches in North Cornwall but until recently hadn’t seen any of it first hand. Because of the excellent North Cornwall Book Festival at St Endellion over the weekend I had the opportunity to combine my love of books and writing with my love of Gothic stone carving, clearly a win-win situation. When the church was empty one afternoon (it was great to see it used as a performance venue for the speakers and musicians, as well as hosting an exhibition and printmaking workshops) I was able to take a closer look. (more…)