Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An angel roof

click photo to enlarge
The Gothic style of architecture that prevailed from the twelfth century until the fifteenth century was an international style in much the same way that the styles of the twentieth and twenty first century have been. It's true that it was largely confined to Europe rather than the world in general, but across England, France, Germany, Italy and many other nations the same construction methods, building forms and decorative devices were used. There were regional differences, but these were within the overall style, and made one nation's Gothic different in detail rather than substance.

English Gothic developed two main differences that made it stand out from that produced by other nations. In the fifteenth century the style turned towards what was later called "Perpendicular", a period when the ogee curves and naturalistic carving of earlier years was abandoned and replaced by repeated, flat "panel" tracery. The whole appearance of buildings was lighter due to bigger windows and larger spaces, and the refined decoration gave it a more austere look. This change was not seen in continental Europe. The other difference in English Gothic was the preference for wooden ceilings and roofs over stone vaulting. The great cathedrals and monasteries did have stone vaulting that became more intricate over time, as happened elsewhere in Europe. However, parish churches rarely used it, preferring quite sophisticated timber roofs of varying constructional types. The high-point in elaboration was undoubtedly the double hammer-beam design, a form that spanned a wide space without the need for a long tie-beam to bridge the gap from wall to wall. Other variations include the trussed rafter roof, the tie-beam design, the collar braced design, the barrel roof and the single hammer beam roof.

Today's photograph shows an example of this fine woodwork - a tie-beam nave "angel roof" with brackets resembling arch-braces - at All Hallows church (sometimes called All Saints) at Dean in Bedfordshire. The structure has been restored: some of the rafters, purlins and boarding have been replaced, but the principal members remain from the 1400s when it was first erected. Beautification was as important as utility to the people who created this roof. The decoration includes large angels that hold the Instruments of the Passion and musical instruments, infill of stylised foliage, dentil-like carving, bosses with birds, angels, rope and other devices and wall-plate friezes of leaves and angels. Such roofs were usually brightly painted and offered a glimpse of heaven to those in the congregation who turned their eyes upward. Today they continue to offer a marvellous sight to the interested visitor and photographer.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/8
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On