Whilst two-dimensional images of Saint George slaying the Dragon are almost commonplace, an English medieval image in the round is a different matter.
The manner in which this 26" high oak figure is made shows that he was positioned in the true upper right register of the archivolt of a doorway. The story of Saint George is handed down from third century Rome. It was not however until the late medieval period that he began to be depicted as in this composition as the Patron Saint of England slaying a dragon.
This is an iron, fifteenth century bifacial Maryan Guild processional image or sign which will, as indicated by the mounting tab, have been carried on a staff in procession or ( much more probably in view of the BULLET 'HOLE' complete with burning ) have been displayed as a sign outside a Guild Hall. The appearance suggests having been treated with a tarry preservative material which has now resulted in a compacted, very stable patinated surface.
It is known with certainty to have formerly been in the ownership ( collection of? ) Matthew Boulton ( 1728-1809 ) : the renowned metalworking industrialist and business partner of James Watt.
Writing in the 1950's, Mackay Thomas first used the rather well coined phrase 'first stabilised English form' in order to codify this form of candlestick which we colloquially call the 'bunsen burner'.
At first sight there appear to be quite a few of these extant but, on eliminating both the vaguely similar French sticks and later reproductions and fakes, there really aren't many to be seen. Of those, all but four are made of copper alloy and there is one such in the Collection. The four which are not made of copper alloy are each made of tin alloy ( pewter ) : one in the Museum of London, the second with Stirling Castle Museum and two including this one in private collections.
With a height of 4.6" and diameter of 3", it is not only rare as a candlestick but also as a piece of English medieval pewter of any type.
As in the preceding page, this also is a bunsen burner type candlestick but made, more usually, of copper alloy ( bronze ). It is interesting to note that many fragments of stems and sockets of this type are available on the market which enable comparison with the relatively few surviving complete sticks. For reason(s ) difficult to deduce however, almost no bases of this type are found in isolation by archaeological investigation.
Of a traditional form, albeit infrequently found when English, the 17" high oak candle-bearing angel is from Devon. Fortunately, the dignity of the figure is undiminished by the absence of the long-gone candlestick : formerly held as though being presented.
There is an interesting matter to note concerning his present condition. Whilst a small amount of wax has been applied to the front ( prior to joining the Collection ), the back has been left unpolished. It could be said that this has enabled co-residence of idealism and pragmatism.
Respecting that they were devotional objects of significance to individuals and communities, it cannot be missed that the market has been awash in recent years with large, crude, often late-dated, repeatedly over-painted Continental wooden figures of Mary. This does not apply to all. Memory of a beautiful, large, 15th century Nottingham alabaster of Mary from fifteen years ago, and another Romanesque French Mary in oak, approximately contemporary with King Stephen on this Homepage, offered recently in Paris, provide reassuring exceptions.
Being late Romanesque circa 1300, made of copper alloy, hollow-backed and measuring 21/2"x1", this 'group' is far removed from such Continental examples. It is highly detailed with, for instance, each of the four hands and the (presumed) pomegranate being held by Christ the subject of considerable care in making.
By reason of size, it clearly is a personal, devotional object : or is it? The contemporary, extensive deposit of a 'concreted substance' attached to the back has it appearing to have been attached to some solid structure of stone or metal. During a number of different periods, to have been known to own such an image in England would have invited virulent opprobrium at the least.
Apparently in the majestic Athelhampton House, Dorset until 1957, the subject of this late medieval needlework is that of the Angel Gabriel visiting Elizabeth to tell of the impending birth of her son John the Baptist.
What a contrast between this positive image and the many surviving gruesome depictions in both two and three-dimensional form of the head of John lying on a plate : by which this alone Herod's daughter Salome seems to be remembered.
Increased wealth of a part of seventeenth century English society gave rise to ownership of much oak furniture of the day and this is still evidenced by the many extant exuberantly-decorated armed chairs. Earlier pre-Elizabethan chairs are both plainer and materially rarer and pre-Reformation chairs such as this are next to non-existent.
Unlike the other early chair from the Collection shown on a different page which required detailed description to enable understanding, this chair speaks for itself : excepting perhaps inviting just one question. Is its distinctive form designed for comfort or as a means of displaying the sitter? Whilst not uncomfortable, experience of it would favour the latter : not an unimportant matter to the furniture historian.
Seven inches high and dating from the 14th/15th century, the ceramic jug is notable by reason of aesthetic appeal, condition and provenance. It's attendant paper label shows it to have been a part of the stock or collection of the now deceased authority Jonathan Horne. That label, with it's reference number and price, said ' 14th-15th. century Witham Essex '. In more recent times, the label which had become detached, was placed within the jug. On seeing the jug and wishing to see the label, a visiting authority on his subject ( not ceramics ), gently shook the inverted pot in order to extract the label. Two labels fell out : the second being made of linen and filthy. In spidery inked writing it says ' Jug. found in digging Cellar. High Street Witham 1820 '. The finding of the label was nearly as exciting as the original acquisition of the jug.
Sadly, the inaccessibility by reason of height of English roof bosses from the Anglo-Norman period did not protect them in the 1530's from attack by Henry's henchmen. By initially stripping the lead, eventually the whole roof, including bosses, succumbed to the weather: many buildings in the care of English Heritage providing evidence thereof.
Found in France and dating from the eleventh century, this 11"x3" granite boss has the risen Christ comfortingly displayed in benediction of his World.
It will of course have differed not at all from those of like form and subject affixed to the junctions of ribs of English monastery roofs. Even the stone used for construction during the period in both England and France is known often to have come from the same deposits.
Throughout most of the medieval period, men displayed their affinity to people or organisations by the wearing of a Collar made of precious metals. In effect, a medieval Collar can be equated to a current-day necklace : albeit on a very large and grand scale. From the Collar typically was suspended, in a central position, one decorative item which further reinforced the wearer's affinity. Collars also can be well visualised as period equivalents of Chains of Office. Well remembered is travelling on Concorde from London to Berlin in the only small party which could be carried in such splendour : being led by the Lord Mayor of London ( holder of the twelfth century office and not that of the Mayor of London which is a recent foundation for administrative management ). He was wearing 'The Jewel' suspended from a fabric collar around his neck : this being the 'everyday' insignia worn in representation of the full Chain of Office. The Jewel corresponds to those of various forms suspended from medieval Collars as described. Of course, the Niche is very modest by comparison and it is admitted that schooling at the time was required in order to learn of the Mayor's apparel : this coming from a brave former MP ( with an even braver wife ) who deserves to be held in high national esteem.
Made of gilded silver, this is in the form of a niche with a looped attachment on the back enabling recognition of its means of suspension from the Collar. Fortunately still in unrestored good condition, it measures 11/4x1/2x1/4". Obvious however, is the absence of the figure which will have been reverently presented within it : most probably of Mary. This is a mixed blessing for, if the ivory figure had still been present, it would not have been acquired fro the Collection by reason of love of and respect for the Elephant.
Such angels were ( and still are ) positioned vertically or at 45 degrees within the roofs of ecclesiastical buildings. This fifteenth century oak carving is 3' high and has, presumably at the Reformation, been subjected to what can most accurately be described as a sustained attack with an axe. We can only despair at the anarchistic ideology which resulted in defacement and desecration of such a figure of humility. Sad to say, the angel provides a more effective historical record than would be the case if free of such treatment. In present hands, it also is considered more empathetic than if it had been left in peace : comfortingly so.
There are a good number of surviving fragments of this type of English fifteenth century copper alloy folding candlestick. However it is not surprising, considering the fragility of the design and manufacture, that there are very few which are as complete as this one. An example of such is in the Museum of London.
The stick could be inserted vertically or horizontally into an aperture : in either position, being secured by the locking mechanism. When not in use, it could be folded as though a pair of scissors such that both the socket and spike were adjacent and pointing in the same direction. It is notable that this is one of very few different types of English medieval candlestick extant.
Irrespective of intrinsic value, the most prized possession of a monastic or other ecclesiastical community was the chalice : it being central to the celebration of the Mass. With the exception when license was granted to specific institutions in times of exceptional penury, medieval church law forbade use of vessels made of non-precious metals in such Celebration. This thirteenth century chalice is made of tin alloy : that is to say pewter. With some notable exceptions in respect of senior members of the Priesthood, the practice of burying a representative chalice and paten with a priest was satisfied with vessels made of pewter and not of precious metals. Most fortunately, this chalice was found in 1908 at Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire during the construction of a croquet lawn.
For reason both that it is a chalice and that it is probably the only funerary item in the Collection, it receives all due care and respect : objects are infused with their history.
This English fifteenth century sandstone carving is about 11"x11"x7" and depicts the known form of a 'cautious man'.
A notable aspect of his provenance is that the true pair to him depicting an 'incautious man' was sold at auction in recent years : whence described as a 'Green Man'.
With such an interesting and unusual subject, usual antipathy towards anything from the mass of available material called 'mounts' was suppressed in order to have Adam and Eve join the Collection.
Made of copper alloy and measuring 1"x11/3", self-evidently it is pierced and deeply modelled so as to transcend its small size as seen.
There is just one other known which is nearly identical and recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. That was found in Hampshire and dated 1100-1300. If only the one from the Collection had been known at the time of the PAS listing, that they represent Adam and Eve aside the Tree of Life and are next to certainly box mounts would have been recognised and recorded: mounting pins present being of a scale indicating a box and not a belt mount.
We have reason to be grateful to those whose research of early things has been recorded for posterity. The subject of processional crosses and the figures attached to them has received studious care from a number of such academics.
In a sense, without cheapening these, they can fairly be described as formulaic in design and making. Made of gilded copper alloy with figures of Christ in the centre, the Virgin Mary to his right and Saint John to his left, even the moulding of the bases as attached to the overall structure of the cross is to a common pattern. This is not to say that there are many figures surviving : those which did will have been broken from crosses at the Reformation to be retained by the faithful as devotional images.
Whilst this 4" high fifteenth century figure of John is from an unknown location, fortunately the 'finding provenance' of the following three images is known.
From Castle Hedingham in Essex, this 31/4" high copper alloy ( bronze ) processional cross figure of Saint John is virtually identical to another in Colchester Museum.
( see preceding page )
Probably by reason of there being lead in the alloy used for manufacture, this 31/4" high processional cross figure of John from Runhall, Suffolk is materially heavier than the other figures in the group.
( see preceding two pages )
Whilst there are quite a few processional cross figures of St. John extant, those of Mary are near to non-existent. Perhaps this is because it will have been more life-endangering to have been found in possession of a Mary rather than a John during the Reformation period and these may well have been melted down in greater numbers. This 31/2" high figure is from Hindringham, Norfolk.
In order to protect the holy water contained in a medieval font from theft and subsequent profane use, a cover was locked into place. These substantial covers could sometimes reach literally yards above the font and be worked in considerable decorative detail.
Large covers were raised by use of a rope and pulley attached to a ( possibly roof ) beam. The girth of the ring for the rope would suggest that the associated cover was itself large and heavy : albeit not of the scale of some surviving covers. Perhaps now, it is most notable for its ambiguous blending of sternness and humour : the cherubic angel raising a supposed font cover which will have been matched in design by the actual font cover beneath.
Not every day is found a 'new' design of candlestick and, even less likely, a functionally different type of stick. Whilst this meets each of those criteria, tomorrow may be found a dozen like it.
Made of copper alloy and measuring 31/2" in height and a maximum of 3/4" in width, when inverted it looks to be a somewhat commonplace finial. Apart from the 'feel' of it when handled, three physical aspects do however confirm it to be a candlestick : it comprises two elements peened together in traditional candlestick-making manner if not form, the socket has been burned extensively over a long period of time and it even has compacted wax of years in that socket.
Whilst it will not have been unusual in a secular or ecclesiastical environment for a lit candle in one candlestick to have been used to light candles in other candlesticks, at the least it would have been an awkward and inelegant task. Medieval candlesticks made and used specifically for that purpose appear not to have been identified or discussed.
Perhaps only by seeing depictions in manuscripts or tapestries may we learn the manner in which tables such as this were used. With an undecorated, single planked rear 'frieze' panel, it most probably was placed against a wall and not used for dining on any scale : other perhaps than for the well-understood practise of storing food and drink for the long evening candle-lit hours of darkness. The quite different form of furniture apparently most often used for that purpose, the buffet, is however well explored in the record.
The 5' 2" long oak table dating from about 1480 is English and mostly complete : excepting the 'cupboard' floor and re-tipped legs. There is another in the V&A which is somewhat less complete : apparently having only four panels and two front legs which are original. With respect towards the V&A's present curatorial staff, that this is described as a table clearly would not accord with current practise. The shaped and moulded legs and rails together with the carving of panels and door provide a quietly appealing, restrained aesthetic combination worthy of the period.
Retained with the Collection is a V&A postcard depicting their table which has the handwritten date of '21.11.40'. Whoever visited the Museum and bought the subsequently unposted card on such a dark day in wartime Britain must have been a serious enthusiast. Long may we maintain such interest in and commitment towards our shared heritage.
The role and function of reliquaries are ideally understood as an element of the cult of saints in the Anglo-Saxon and medieval church. The veneration of notable holy people took physical form in the creation of shrines to them, both within structures dedicated for the purpose and within ecclesiastical buildings for wider religious use.
Ranging in size from small, box-like reliquaries to 'body-containing-sized' tomb chests, they served the same purpose of preserving and presenting the remains, relics and attributes of the saint venerated at each particular location.
Some large structures, including tomb chests, remain in English churches. Also, by reason of the extent to which they were made and their aesthetic attractiveness, quite a few reliquaries from Limoges are extant. To reference an English medieval miniature reliquary however is difficult if not impossible: with the possible exception of one in alabaster in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Measuring only 11/4" wide, 1" high and 3/4" deep, the tin alloy reliquary is flat-backed, stands on lions as front supports and has a decorated front 'panel' with a true left hand panel in two reserves: each of which has a quatrefoil within it. It is complete except that the central section of the true right hand upper end has been broken away and that, as there is a slightly raised section at the top of the left hand end which is fractured, there may have been a low 'superstructure' of some sort: perhaps even a very low 'canopy'.
If this was one of many such, it would be seen to be a more complex ( three-dimensional ) devotional object but serving the same purpose as a pilgrim badge : that is, a memento of a visit to a particular shrine. Apparently unique, and thereby invalidating such explanation, it has, for the present at least, to be considered simply as a generic English devotional object.
Clearly depicting a young boy, this fifteenth century 15" high oak figure affords little certainty as to his role. Most probably ecclesiastical, he may be a member of a 'song school' : a chorister in the making. Perhaps less likely, he may be a young mourner or pilgrim. Notable, self-evidently, is his period dress and the extent of remaining original paint.
One of only four English medieval credence tables extant, this was inset slightly into a chancel wall and pinned thereto by brackets the apertures for which are present and undisturbed in the back of the table. Mounting brackets in similar form to the period ones have been made to hold the table in place on an oak stand and hence to display it as when originally installed.
Much has been written on the function of such tables but, in brief, they were used for placement and display of cruets containing water and wine which were mixed during Substantiation for the Mass.
This medieval form spawned a plethora of credence tables and cupboards in oak during the late sixteenth and entire seventeenth centuries : some highly appealing and others merely formulaic.
For the record, the story of the finding of the table and of its present state is as follows :--
The table comprises four separate elements namely the top, capital, column and base. To envisage the state of the table when found by an eagle-eyed, purist antiquarian, turn the top upside down and concrete it onto the upper face of the capital. Now fix a heavy iron pin into the upper face of the top for display of a figure. If this joining had been undertaken by use of lime-based mortar, the top and capital could have been eased/prised apart and the entire table be returned to its original state. However, in order to save the top, the capital was measured, drawn and then sacrificed. The present capital was made as a faithful copy by the former Head Mason of England's most wonderful cathedral ( nominations 'on a postcard' if you wish ). The lifetime experience of the finder enabled identification and rescue but also afforded heartache.
Finally to note, whilst the other three stone tables were ( in some cases still are ) used during the Mass, this is the only one remaining in this design : and hence the only forerunner of later oak examples extant. There is at least one 'pillar piscina' in a West Country church in this same form but the presence of a drain in that confirms its identity to be that of a piscina and not that of a table.
Recovered together with many items of English pewter from a ship which was wrecked in the Caribbean in 1545, this pair of cressets ( floating-wicked lamps ) measuring 3" in height and 4" in maximum diameter are made of cast and wrought copper alloy ( bronze ).
Capable of being suspended from a beam or placed on a flat surface as chosen, it cannot be determined whether they were in transit with the pewter for later domestic use or whether they were for use on board ship. Perhaps, if the organic material which has stained the interior of the cressets could be analysed, it may be learned whether these contained wax or ( whale? ) oil. This however would still not confirm whether they were used on land or sea.
That they now are in such good unrepaired condition belies their recovered state : apparently that of two large, heavily concreted cannon balls.
On the preceding page can be seen the mounts for the handles to each of the cressets: the ends of each handle passing through the side mounts. Somewhat differently, the mounts of a Situla (holy water bucket), whilst also being brazed to the upper outside surfaces, each has a 'depression' on the inner face by which the ends of the handle are retained.
Whilst not always so, such mounts are sometimes formed as heads in a closely similar typical style and form. This fourteenth century example, found very close to Blakeney Priory in Norfolk, is notable both by reason of its exceptionally large size and weight (ten ounces), completeness (they usually are 'snapped off' from the Situla) and excellent condition.
That this English fifteenth century 18" high oak figure is of Mary Magdalene is denoted certainly by her traditional long hair and probably by what seems to be a scourge laid across her breast.
Sadly, the most notable characteristic of the carving is its very survival : such figures almost invariably being Continental.
Exploratory understanding of this unusual object is aided in three ways : by knowing and recognising the significance of its size at about 7"x7"x21/2", its considerable weight at 5lb 3ozs. and by seeing the striking stylistic similarity to aquamanilia.
Despite similarity to those highly atmospheric water dispensers, this is not one but is, in basic terms, a handle which was attached to the lid of a vessel.
Whilst appearing to be made of silver, it is of copper alloy with remains seemingly of gilding and certainly of paint still clearly visible. Beneath the 'base plate' are two threaded bolts: one of iron set into a period copper alloy stem and the other also of iron but brazed directly onto the base plate. The one originally and later the two were the means by which a lid was attached. The combined lid with Handle/Finial was then placed onto a vessel which must have been of a considerable size. The slot which rested over the lip of the vessel when the lid was in place is highly pronounced, has a width of almost half an inch but is not visible in the photograph in its position immediately behind the base plate and behind the back feet of the Beast.
Perhaps a real 'giveaway' to its most probable Asian origin is the mounting position in the top of the head: perhaps for a plume.
As a part of the Collection, whilst obviously early it clearly is alien. It has however been shown in an attempt to attract knowledgeable interest which may aid in establishing provenance. Its design and scale might well evidence its cultural importance but where is it from and what was the purpose of the very large vessel which it crowned? Recent provenance is of its surfacing from very long-term (unpaid!) storage. Whilst hopefully not so, if it is found to be part of another's cultural heritage which has been purloined, it will be returned with alacrity into appropriate safe-keeping.
An item wholly different from others in a collection can be intriguing : there being an indication of quality justifying presence of a stranger in that company.
There are two fundamentally different types of panflute : one made from a single block of material and the other from a group of tubes bound together. The former type dates at least from the Viking period : the latter type typically but not solely pan-American. This is probably of boxwood and clearly has Native American decoration. It is known with certainty to have come from spending a long period of time in the collection of a greatly respected, long-deceased major dealer in early furniture and works of art.
Some research has been undertaken but further experienced opinion would be appreciated.
The two counter tables shown on this and the following page will have been made by the same craftsman/workshop : despite having come to the Collection from different sources and at different times. This is particularly surprising as there seem to be no other period boarded ( rather than panelled ) counter tables recorded.
This first one measuring 3'7"x 2'2"x2'7" is in near original condition. As with seemingly all extant counter tables, the top is now hinged rather than sliding. Whilst the cleats are, most surprisingly by reason of their fine fragility, both original and complete ( note that that there were only three originally ), the top has been turned through 180 degrees before being hinged. This is confirmed by reason of patination of the cleatless top edge on the side where the 'owner' sat to transact his business and that the decoration and key position are on that same side. Somewhat perversely, there are small, later 'endcaps' on the outside of each end plank in the position of the stretcher. These would not be required to retain the stretcher in place if a peg had, as originally, been inserted into the aperture visible on the left of the photograph.
Highly notable is the period incised, complex decoration of arches and circles : including the initials that are immediately below the key opening.
At 36"x23"x30", this counter table is somewhat smaller than that on the preceding page from the same craftsman/workshop. As with the previous table, the top now is hinged and does not slide as originally. During that process it has been turned through 180 degrees and the original cleats, which had been part of the sliding mechanism, have been refixed : albeit inaccurately. Whilst the rest of the table is original, the true right sledge foot has been replaced.
The back of the table not in view is decorated with a complex 'wavy-form' frieze and, as can be seen, the front has a frieze form including a cross similar to that of just a few of the most appealing apparently early boarded stools : some of which are a delight but most of which are fake.
Located in the archivolts of medieval doorways or windows with no thought for symmetry, such heads were of any and every subject. Although probably not sited in a highly exposed external position, this seven-inch high fellow, looking rather like Lindow Man ( from an ancient bog in Wilmslow Cheshire ), is made of sandstone and has been worn by abrasion or the elements so that features on the right hand side of his face are diminished.
Listed with the Portable Antiquities Scheme as 13th century French, the text translates as 'May God protect all those who are here and who made me'. There is another example known which is part of the ( now ) Stirling Castle Collection of pewter. As these were each found in London and as French was in common use in 13th. century England, maybe the attribution of country of origin should be considered uncertain.
Found in 1915 in the cellar of a property on King William Street in London together with a ceramic cresset also shown in the Collection, this early medieval stone cresset is 5" high and in fine, informative condition. Most fortunately, it was recovered and has been maintained with great care. The evidence of a thirteenth century date for the ceramic cresset suggests that, by association, this one also may date from that time. For completeness and possibly to confound this, fifteenth century pottery also was recovered from the same cellar at that time.
It would be interesting to know in which collection it has been : as indicated by the catalogue number '40' painted most meticulously in silver with a fine lined surround in black.
At first sight, whilst this is clearly medieval, it appears to be an unexceptional 'chess piece' type of seal. Made of copper alloy ( bronze ), It is one and a quarter inches high with a 'base' diameter of half an inch. From handling, two things can clearly be discerned ; it has been sculpted with care to mate very closely with thumb and finger when in use ; the extent of its patination shows the extent of use to well exceed that expected of a personal seal.
So, what is it? It is a bread stamp used for marking the Host prior to consecration for the Mass. The Christian cross has another in the true lower right quadrant and 'points' in each of the upper quadrants : the lower cross denoting the Virgin Mary and the 'points' representing the sun and moon as depicted in such manner in at least one thirteenth century manuscript. In view of the extent of its use, it most probably was suspended by a lanyard around the neck of a monk for frequent use in stamping, prior to baking, the Host of a size known to have been used, albeit not invariably, in the monasteries. It is improbable that such frequent use as evidenced would have occurred in secular ( ie. not monastic ) contexts.
May there be other early medieval bread stamps, presently unrecognised, in seal collections?
On the preceding page, the possibility of finding another bread stamp was mooted: and so it was to be. Whilst more modest in material, size and making, this does however have provenance which is particularly heart-warming in view of what it is.
Early medieval, made of tin alloy and measuring about one inch in height and maximum width, it locates very certainly between thumb and finger for use in stamping the Host. Whilst the two stamps were held in materially different ways, their function was the same and they will have been equally secure in the hands of the monks charged with their use. As can be seen from the picture of the underside, it is incised simply with a cross: most probably having been wrought in its entirety and not cast.
Found in the 1980's in the River Medway in Kent, adjacent to Aylesford Priory which is next to the river, it was later recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
That it did not come from the medieval Priory (now returned to being an active monastery and retreat called 'The Friars') could reasonably be considered unlikely.
Early stools continue to be appreciated and sought after by collectors. Added to this, triangular furniture of any type and from any period has its own aesthetic attraction and appeal. Conjoin these and you have a piece of furniture of a type of exceptional interest.
A stool such as this from the sixteenth century could be viewed as being medieval or renaissance. We would consider whether a design looks backwards to the Medieval period or forwards to the English Renaissance : itself later than on the Continent. This 23" high oak stool straddles the periods, evidencing medieval austerity in form and manufacture but with three elegant frieze panels very much in Renaissance style.
This rather harsh image resulting from over-cleaning is unhelpful in aiding recognition that this carving is from the thirteenth century. Made from very dense, early 'constructional' oak, it has surfaces not in view which are knarled and patinated in conformity with it's age.
Known with confidence to have been removed from the upper roof timbers of a thirteenth century Dorset manor house into which it was pegged, there is a suggestion, not least from the headgear, that one of the carpenters responsible for that structure left this image of himself in graffitiesque manner.
Seen in close proximity and in a domestic context, medieval glass loses the compositional grandeur of it's former position but takes on an undoubted gentle charm.
Sensitive, simple design, subtle colouring and the varying texture of early glass can be seen and appreciated in such near view.
This piece of fifteenth century painted glass from Norwich is now surrounded by plain glass of the period. Even such modest figurative glass is seen infrequently.
This unusual depiction, rather than against a plain background, has been chosen in order to aid and increase appreciation of early glass as a domestic art form.
Made of oak and measuring just short of 6 feet in length, 4 feet in height and 11/2 feet in depth, this fifteenth century chest was used to store manuscripts. The nails remaining in the front of each drawer will have retained in place labels, possibly of vellum, to denote the contents. Additionally, names written in large black-inked script on the sides of drawers also provided identification information : there being some still present which were 'pricked out' prior to being infilled with ink. Some pools of red sealing wax remain in drawers. It is unlikely that there will have been both leather thongs and iron handles on each drawer. What is certain however is that there were leather thongs originally and that the present handles are of a similar date to the chest.
Just three other such manuscript chests remain which are in the Muniment Room of Winchester College, The Vicar's Choral of Wells Cathedral and the ( first floor ) Aerary Porch of St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle : each a highly protected environment.
The temptation to have drawers made to replace the four which are missing has been resisted and the corrugated cardboard 'dust protectors' are from the early twenty-first century.
The common denominator between the Chest on the previous page and this object is that of manuscripts.
Prior to the making/use of paper, the pages of books were made by use of parchment: one form of which was vellum. Whilst these words have now become interchangeable, the difference between the skins used in the making of parchment reflected in medieval usage of the appropriate word for the applicable material: parchment being generic and vellum being skin-type specific.
Whilst completely safe to say that this was used either as a page marker or to hang pages for drying following writing in inks and maybe decorating with paints, it would be without foundation to say which of these specifically was its purpose. It is of course possible that it was used for each of these at different times.
Made of copper alloy and measuring 2" in length and 3/4" maximum in width it is one of two in the Collection. Whilst they were each found in different places not distant from each other in England, they are so similar as to justify expectation that they were made by the same artisan.
Each one of the few extant aestels most likely has survived only because their handle/finial is of considerable aesthetic appeal. Without exception, they no longer are complete with the collar-attached pointer, perhaps of ivory or wood, which was fundamental to their purported purpose. Whilst couched in cautious terms as to that purpose, both the few museums with these and the Portable Antiquities Database describe their function as that of enabling 'following' of the text of a manuscript without potential damage from contact by fingers : itself reminiscent of the present-day use of gloves for handling precious objects. The best known of these aestels is the well-provenanced 'Alfred Jewel' which is in the care of Oxford's Ashmolean Museum.
Caution is adopted here also in describing this as possibly the one surviving, albeit aesthetically modest, aestel complete with its unitary pointer. That the handle has been broken, leaving sufficient length of striated section appearing to be a rule for measuring and spacing, suggests that this was used by a Scribe or Illuminator rather than by a reader. The richness in design, materials and decoration of each of the other aestels suggests that they were presentational/ceremonial rather than utilitarian but, by comparison, does not detract from this more modest but more complete aestel having its own aesthetic appeal.
Measuring a litttle over two inches in length and made of silvered, high-density copper alloy, open-jawed consumption of the purported rule by the Dragon suggests an implied reference to 'Devouring the word of God'---itself derived from Ezekial 3.3---Then God said to me "Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it". In an alternative, the consumption of The Rule may have been intended to make reference to unrestrained embracing of the Benedictine Rule : this at first sight a disrespectful observation but not so as the aestel has been conceived in the quirky style of Marginalia which enlivens many extant manuscripts.
Medieval and Tudor inkwells tend to follow the same pattern. Modest ones are lead, leather, copper alloy or wooden simple cup-like containers and grand ones are of similar basic form but highly decorated: formed as a single element with, at most, a lid. How different this one is.
Six elements, five of copper alloy and one of glass, as five separable components (the hinge accounting for the difference six to five) together form an inkwell which is both highly sophisticated in design yet severely plain in execution: any decoration being for function or for practicality of manufacture.
A hemispherical bowl of very fine material (which may have been placed on a stand) has within it a round, flat-bottomed vessel of similar material with vertical, striated sides. Within that sits a flat-bottomed round glass bottle with vertical sides and a narrowed neck: also with vertical sides. A (lower) lid sits on top of the three elements, with an upper, hinged lid now without its original small knop. The lower lid has three pen-wipe slots which will have allowed for capture of ink in the 'reservoir' between the bowl and inner bottle-containing vessel. It is hoped that this description will enable understanding of the picture.
On the floor of the inner vessel are lying fine leaves of a presumably organic material which defies description. Cream in colour, finely shaped and piled piece-on-piece this material equates in thickness to modern-day cling-film. It seems highly improbable that it, in sheets of suitable size, could have been used for writing upon: being so fine. If specialists in this field so wish, it is likely that a picture could be taken from which investigation could ensue.
Moving from fact to conjecture, why was so much trouble taken to make this and why does it have the capacity to hold so little ink? Perhaps it was used infrequently and in a highly procedural manner for the signing of a document of importance by a person of importance. As an inkwell, it displays design and manufacturing overkill par excellence.
Although complete and undamaged, except in miniscule respects, even those of experience may have seen this to be fragmentary and unidentifiable as to purpose.
Made of copper alloy with a complete, fine period patina, excepting one small degraded area, it is 3/4" high and 11/4" in length along each axis: the 90-degree bend being original as made.
Whilst the quill will have been placed on the rest when on a flat surface, in order to maintain it in respect of surface state and quantity of ink, the Rest will have been lifted with the left hand and the quill stroked through with the right hand. The seeming mere decoration on the left arm being a dimpled holding position for thumb and first finger: the latter placed in the dimple at the back.
Despite the relationship between the Rest and the Inkwell on the preceding page, these did not surface together.
Whilst this tin alloy ( pewter ) douser clearly is medieval, it is interesting to consider why the form of attachment to a candlestick or lamp used here remained next to identical from medieval times to the end of the nineteenth century if not longer : even when in silver. This is yet more surprising as the design arguably is so ungainly and verging on the illogical.
Whilst undoubtedly all sorts of informal means of maintaining candles will have been employed in the medieval period, the known devices for such purpose were snuffers ( wick trimmers ), doubters ( scissor-like extinguishers ) and dousers such as shown on the preceding page. Here, most unusually, is an English fifteenth century copper alloy implement for clearing wax from candlestick sockets of large diameter : those used in ecclesiastical establishments and well-to-do households.
The two notches in the shoulders, which are clearly visible in the lower image, are worthy of particular mention. In order to enable more determined extraction of resisting wax, when one's thumb is slid down the utensil the notches enable the thumbnail to be located highly securely and effectively. Examined with care, it can be seen that this seemingly contentious interpretation is both most intriguing and correct. No other example of this form is recorded.
A casual glance would suggest that this 17" high finial of a monk sitting on a bench is itself from a bench. With flat side and back, it was in a corner position : in view of which no sense can be made if seen as a bench finial. It will have been a staircase finial but, being of such small width and depth, that staircase will have been modest in scale if not in decoration. Considering these physical factors and the subject, it will most likely have been at a 90 degree turn in a rood loft stair.
Remembered with wry amusement is the reported comment of an unidentified dealer at the auction when this possibly even pre-medieval, sensitive presentation of pathos was acquired ---- " I wonder what sort of idiot bought this ".
There are four cressets in the Collection : a pair in copper alloy, one in stone and this one in ceramic. In view of the considerably greater availability and lower cost of fats and oils for lamps and cressets by comparison with wax for candles, it seems probable that, across a broad period, cressets were used more extensively than candlesticks. This is not of course to ignore the known widespread use of rushlights.
This ceramic cresset, 9" high and 7" in maximum diameter, was found in 1915, together with the one in the Collection made of stone, in the cellar of a house on King William Street, London.
In order that they can be shown at a size to enable understanding, on the following page are two period images of cressets such as this one. The first is a page from the 13th century Crusader Bible ( acknowledgement with thanks to the Morgan Library & Museum, New York ) and the second, also from the 13th century, of an extant wall painting from Winchester Cathedral. Whilst the former is in clear view, the latter can be seen in the bottom left hand corner under the ceiling of the building and above a chalice. From other manuscripts, it is known that these also were placed within a supporting ring of iron attached to a wall by a spike.
A small number of examples of ( presumably table-placed ) ceramic cressets of similar design are known which are only about 3" high : an example being in the Museum of London. Cressets were suspended from three-armed copper alloy brackets. There are two of these in the Collection and, whilst one is shown here to enable suspension, it seems probable that this size was used for small and not for large cressets. It appears that no other early, 'ceiling-hung' cresset such as this has survived, despite that they may have been used extensively in their day.
As referred to on the previous page.
Knowledge of provenance so as to be able to specify the religious order and house from which this nun originated would have been appreciated. She does however remain an enigma, of necessity described only as being English, fifteenth century, about 7" cubed and made of sandstone. Perhaps, having already used the word and not resisting use of adjectives, she is enigmatic.
Whilst a somewhat socially offensive, albeit meaningful phrase, the 'high status' of the original owner of this chair is confirmed by the physical evidence. More precisely, what is now absent but unquestionably was previously present, is the source of that evidence. To claim age or status by comparison with the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey would be absurd, but there is one highly significant aspect of design shared by them : that of standing on lions. Whilst the Westminster lions are only from the eighteenth century, the original lions are here absent. However, the remains of their manes are incised into the lower part of each chair leg. Possibly at the time of removing the lions, the finials were sawn off to enable removal of the cresting rail. Surely this rail must have been of quite some importance to trigger attack upon such an obviously significant chair. The original finials are presently merely balanced in place but are certain to be original by reason of grain-matching. The third aspect of the chair which departs from the original is that the seat panel and front rail beneath it are replacements. This came about apparently because of the breakage of the seat panel which had fitted into channels along the full length of each of the supporting rails. Instead of taking apart the whole chair and then reinserting the seat panel, a new, larger seat was slid in from the front and a replacement front rail to support the rearrangement was affixed. Below seat level, narrow vertical members were present both between the seat rails on each side and on the front but these were not muntins for adjacent panels as would be expected in a fully enclosed box chair. None of this is conjecture and it is interesting to note that the original front rail remains in situ behind the later rail. The manner in which this work has been undertaken has resulted most fortunately in certainty of understanding of the original. The size of the chair also is indicative of status. Whilst however both wide and deep, this could indicate no more than that the owner was large. What cannot go unrecognised is the length of the legs : when adding whatever height is presumed for the lions to the present original leg length, the total height for the seat is improbably low for the period. This leads to a reasonably safe conclusion that the chair sat on a dais to attain usable height and therefore was of 'high status'. We can only wonder at the identity of its occupant.
The late Victor Chinnery spent some hours studying the chair. Amongst many other observations, one particularly remembered was his explanation as to why we can be certain that the arms are original. His scholarship and conduct experienced on many occasions are remembered with appreciation and affection.
Most medieval roof bosses are affixed in a central position beneath the junction of roof beams. Fortunately, the person recovering this 18" wide boss had the foresight to match innovation of positioning with innovation of acquisition. The two opposed angels sit astride a beam of small section which has itself been cut for extraction without disturbing the relationship between boss and beam. Some early paint 'shines through' the grime of centuries as testament also to the sensitivity of the recoverer in not stripping this evolved period surface. To assist in understanding and appreciation of the boss, rotation of the image by 90 degrees may prove to be beneficial.
This boss now is installed with the angels once again looking down beningly upon those beneath.
How interesting and enjoyable is the study, research and collecting of early game pieces. That most of those extant are not English, whilst of no account to a universal collector, would be inhibiting if forming a country-specific collection as this one.
This 3" high medieval hare is made of tin alloy ( pewter ) and is the centre piece of a so-called 'chase' or 'hunt' board game which was in vogue throughout Europe during the entire medieval period. One version is referred to as 'chase the hare' or 'catch the hare'. The other pieces were, much less appealingly, non-figurative. For those who love such special and beautiful creatures, fear not : apparently the game simulated the surrounding and not the killing of the pursued.
Albeit with somewhat less mystery than the Hare Game Piece on the preceding page, this Rook Chess Piece, which takes the form of a tower, nevertheless justifies its 'place in the sun'.
Thanks to those who have researched both the game of chess and the pieces used in pursuit of its own mysteries, it is recognised that the name Rook evolved from Rukh and that the piece itself evolved (in the West) from a chariot to a tower/castle by the 'end date' for the Collection----circa 1540.
Cast from tin alloy, with a height of 11/4"x3/4", whilst in the round it is deliberately so shallow front-to-back as to confirm it to be part of a 'travelling set'. That shallowness is rendered practicable in use by the small 'foot extension' which is part of the casting in the centre of the base on one side.
The extent to which the red paint remains on each side suggests the Piece to be historical and not archaeological. Although used very little and having survived in good order, dating to the sixteenth century should not to be considered exaggerative.
The 21"x21"x13" font is from the churchyard of St.Mary's, Badley, Suffolk which was constructed in 1086 to replace its Anglo-Saxon predecessor.
Just visible at near right is the mounting position for the lockable cover which most usually is present on early fonts to protect the water contained from profane use.
The extent of internal staining from water would suggest that the drain hole in the bottom was used sparingly : unless this was sealed up to facilitate secondary use in the churchyard.
Following many years during which a depiction of the crucifixion was not acquired for the Collection, this was ended by the arrival of this monastic bell. Standing almost 10" high, it is late medieval and made of copper alloy ( bronze ) and iron. Those parts in iron are the clapper and the mounting for both it and for the handle : the last being peened at the top to constrain the copper alloy handle in place. As it is in completely original condition, not only can the method of manufacture be fully seen and understood but also can be the sequence of assembly. There are identical depictions of the crucifixion on each side.
Well remembered is the courtesy of the dealer from whom this was acquired and her view that the bell is French : an opinion there is no cause to question but simply informatively to add 'Northern' before 'French'.
Respecting the Monastic community from which it came and the medieval Church law and practice concerning disrespectful ringing of ecclesiastical bells, it has not been rung since acquisition.
Thanks to both the care of and relationship between the finder and supplying dealer of this fifteenth century copper alloy bell, it is known as good as exactly where it was found in Reepham, Norfolk.
Close to both Norwich and Walsingham, Reepham had its own Marian Shrine ( as did Walsingham ) : which likely was situated within one of the three churches occupying the same churchyard in the town. Whilst not found in church precincts but still close to Reepham, it is a matter of conjecture whether the bell was used in worship or carried by a pilgrim. One would expect however others of this type to be known if it was carried in pilgrimage : and they apparently are not.
It is hoped that its gentle charm is conveyed by the picture.
There remains a rather sad looking small aperture in the chancel of most early churches. These were wall aumbries in which were kept church valuables of particular types : those used in celebration of the Mass.
This door was used to secure such an aperture and, whilst the number of those now separated from their original position probably is very small, the number surviving in situ most certainly is so.
The dimensions of the door are 19" in height, 15" in width and a remarkable 21/2" in depth. Whilst now gone, the hinges clearly were of a most unusual, security-aiding form. Also surprising is that both original locks and keys remain.
Whilst the same subject of St. John as three of the four processional cross figures shown on other pages, this smaller figure is from a casket. Highly detailed and still heavily guilded, John is seen pointing to the serpent rising from the chalice which he is holding : hence depicting the origin of the term 'poisoned chalice'.
The form and use of long dining tables has been well documented in surviving period records. Single boards were laid upon trestles without attachment : being held in place solely by their weight. Following dining, boards and trestles were dismantled in order to thereby not occupy space required for other use. Whilst large groups will have dined in this way, in order to avoid over-romanticisation, it should be recognised that modest people having meals in family groups will have in no way engaged in such grandeur.
By reason of scale, colour, texture and implied historical association, a table board is an impressive sight.
This oak table board is 10' 5" long, 2' 2" wide and over 2" thick throughout most of its length. Having been removed from a much later piece of furniture, there now are marks of attachment but there are no marks whatsoever from period times.
So, where is the picture of the table? The picture here instead is of the highly unusual, if not unique, 'upright' which is attached throughout the entire back of the table. This shows the table to certainly have been a 'side board' for holding food and utensils used in serving to the assembled diners. Seventeenth century narrow, high serving tables fixed to bases are not unusual to see : a side board from an earlier period is a different matter.
There is an issue here to be addressed. Was this upright attached when the table was made or is it a later modification? Confirmation that it is original is provided conclusively by a feature probably unique and certainly of great appeal to the observer. Both the underside of the table and the back of the upright are 'grey'. This term indicates a surface which is completely unpatinated. Throughout the length of the top and the length of the upright, there is a very fine, period chamfer : shaved from the lower edge of the back of the table and the outer edge of the underside of the upright. These chamfers, being contemporary, confirm manufacture at one time. It should be added that the pinning of the upright to the back edge of the table is also period and undisturbed : survival in this state being remarkable.
Finally, and most surprisingly, the table has been shortened in such manner as to indicate that a major piece has been removed. If this had only been trimmed, why would the 21/2" thick end have been cut rather than the end where one side narrows to a little over 1". The table formed by separation must itself have been of quite some size to justify such emasculation. Just imagine a say twenty foot long serving board!
Questionably a period maquette of the well known figure of a deacon from the West front of Wells Cathedral. This figure is unique in the Collection for reason that his dating is materially uncertain. Whilst much is known about his recent provenance, including some unusual aspects, additional information from whoever may have definitive knowledge of him would be appreciated.
Mention was made, when describing the font cover pulley on a separate page, that font covers could be 'yards high'. Many however will have been of a size and weight realistic for one person to lift without the need for any lifting contraption.
This English fifteenth century oak finial is effectively a handle which was attached to a font cover of modest size in order to facilitate its removal and replacement. Its form, style and decoration is sufficiently formulaic that it can clearly be recognised and distinguished from pew finials of the period.
All of the polychromed surface is original.
We have cause to be grateful to those who have written on early furniture and objects : including those specialising in candlesticks. One common theme from them has been consideration of the few fundamentally different designs from which have flowed the derivative types we now know. It would appear that this type of stick has not featured at all in the written record. Perhaps this would not have been surprising if it hadn't been for one matter : at least four sticks from a much later date and undoubtedly derived from this early type have been auctioned during recent years. Specifically, how can there be an early stick of a type when others from the period appear to be unknown and yet the type has spawned what we could call style 'reproductions'?
It appears from just one remembered period pictorial reference that this may be an altar stick : albeit from a side altar. What can be said with certainty with the candlestick in hand is that it has been made of good material, to a high standard and probably dates from before the Reformation.
Because this bench is so simple in design, it has been chosen to show a close-up of a key part of it in anticipation that understanding and appreciation will be greater than would have been the case if an overall picture had been displayed. The 3'6" long bench is made of five planks : three of oak and two ( the ends ) of elm. The relationship of four of these can be seen with clarity in this image. The bench is painted in original 'scumble' on each side of each end plank, on the front of the back plank and frieze and on the top of the seat. All other surfaces are completely and originally unpatinated.
This affords a constructionally elegant design the present condition of which speaks well of the maker : most particularly in view of the clear evidence from the state of the painted surfaces that the bench has been thoroughly well used.
Measuring about 20" square and 10" in height, this extremely dense stone is from an Irish medieval market place. With proud ( ie., not incised ) decoration of animals on each side, a gently dished top and a pyramidical form, it must have presented a demanding task to the mason. He ( or she ) however clearly rose to the occasion. It is unrealistic to attempt to imagine how it was sited in context but not unreasonable to expect that it was in clear, appreciated view.
This iron candlestick, reportedly from Norfolk, can in no respect be considered one of a type. Whilst unique is a word to be employed sparingly, perhaps it can be used with justification for such a blacksmith-made one-off. Extensive abrasion of the socket aperture and equally extensive patination of the base confirm that it was in frequent use during a long period of time : rather than having been kept as a mere, precocious exercise in design and manufacture. The handle most probably also was used to suspend it from a hook or other attachment. Clear from the also extensive patination on each side of the base is that it was ( also? ) moved by being held there between thumb and first finger. The condition in which it has survived is a credit both to the maker and probably to that sterling conservator benign neglect.
Whilst there are interesting exceptions by reason of nature of construction, the so-called '6 plank chest' is the form of early chest which has survived in perhaps largest numbers : not least because they were so made from the medieval to the Victorian period. Some chests have notable appeal by reason of material, proportions, colour, texture and metalwork. An early chest which announces its age for unquestionable reasons is of particular interest.
This fifteenth century chest is made of heavy boards and with hinges and hasp in an early leaf-ended form. The outer face of the true right hand end board is adzed : although all other surfaces of each board are sawn. This shows us both something of the cost and value of timber in the medieval period and their approach to practical as well as aesthetic considerations in making furniture.
Traditionally the medieval period closes in 1485 at the end of the Plantagenet dynasty. Of much greater consequence and effect on the design of artefacts was the sacking and closure of the monasteries by say 1540. Whilst not dogmatically so, the Collection takes a steer from this date. By any standard, this large piece of needlework is not medieval. Its date during the sixteenth century is however of interest because of its subject : the Annunciation, which depicts the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary to announce the Incarnation. The attitude towards someone commissioning, owning or displaying such an image varied during the sixteenth century between approval, tolerance and threat to life : this emanating from each current occupant of the throne and their position concerning Roman Catholicism. Whilst at first one would expect this to date from a 'safe' period, it is interesting to consider whether this sylvan scene was designed deliberately to be ambiguous in order to be able to display an image of faith but in the hope that it would be seen as innocently non-ecclesiasiastical. This most probably dates from the relatively tolerant late sixteenth century period of Elizabeth's reign.
You know the feeling when someone is looking at you. The reader standing at the lectern along the top of the sledge feet of which these three English fifteenth century oak lions lay will have known : or so you would think. Do however look again. Whilst they are looking upwards with heads tilted on one side as though paying close attention, they are facing outwards towards the listener and not towards the reader. To add to the symbolism : the lions have humanoid ears.
Self evidently the back of an oak carving, this is a twelfth century English full length figure of King Stephen. Known provenance leads to the expectation that this is from Furness Abbey in Cumbria which was founded by Stephen in 1123.
Rarity of such early English figure sculpture, most particularly of an identifiable person, verges on the non-existent. His deeply dried surface points to protective immuration for centuries.
He most worthily occupies pride of place on the Homepage.