Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Defaced and refaced

click photo to enlarge
It is all too easy to imagine the zealots of the English Reformation rampaging through our churches, smashing the "idolatrous" medieval stained glass windows, flinging the statues of saints from their niches, scraping and scoring the wall paintings and knocking lumps off the effigies that decorated the tombs of the well-to-do. The fervour that gripped many following the split with Rome, and particularly during the Puritan period of the seventeenth century Civil War, led to many such crimes against art, history, culture, and yes, religion.

Visit a few English churches and you can't help but notice tomb effigies with missing noses, with hands broken off at the wrists, snapped swords and headless mourning angels. The parts that projected from the tombs were the easiest to destroy, and the evidence of the depredations of these early Protestants remains today. Interestingly it wasn't all tombs, or all areas that suffered in this way: many medieval masterpieces remain largely untouched by either religious fanaticism, casual vandalism or the accidents of time. In some churches subsequent generations took it upon themselves to restore damaged tombs, with varying degrees of success. In the church at Ashbourne, Derbyshire, I recall seeing alabaster effigies with noses replaced by stone that is a fair match in terms of colour, but which is much more translucent than the original material. Consequently the noses of the deceased glow when the sun shines upon them from a certain angle, and their pious countenances become comic.

Today's photograph shows an early fourteenth century alabaster tomb effigy of a lady flanked by mourning angels. It is in the church of St Mary at Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. The identity of the person is unknown. However, at some point in the past - probably the nineteenth century - the church took the decision to restore the tomb. They did quite a good job in terms of making it convincingly whole, though to what extent it draws upon the original I can't be sure. If you look carefully you can see the edges of the joins where the replacement pieces were inserted. I took my photograph in "challenging" lighting, but managed to hand-hold this shot, the best of the series that I captured. Some post-processing has been done to minimise the distracting background and also to emphasise the main areas of interest of the effigy.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/20 seconds
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On