Monday, August 30, 2010

Shades of Pompeii and Henry Moore

click photo to enlarge
I see a lot of tomb effigies on my visits to England's churches. The earliest are coffin-shaped slabs dating from the twelfth century, and have cross-shaped patterns, swords or low relief figures or part-figures. Effigies become more numerous and more elaborate in subsequent years, right up to the eighteenth century when they can have standing figures in contemporary or classical dress that are life-size or larger. The Victorians were also capable of grandiose monuments with detailed figures, frequently exuding nobility, often deeply sentimental. However, they tended to favour smaller scale wall monuments - plaques with urns, relief figures, palms, doves or Greek sarcophagi. Effigies dating from the twentieth century are extremely rare.

The remaining medieval effigies are often remarkable in terms of the detail that they retain: some look like they were cut yesterday. Alabaster and other kinds of "sculptural" stone is capable of expressing the intricacies of faces, armour, mail, fabric and hair, and sculptors took advantage of this in their work. Of course, many effigies bear the marks of time - vandalism, neglect, iconoclasts, restorers, and simple accidents have all taken their toll on church monuments. Many have succumbed to weather and water when a church roof has leaked or has vanished when the church fell in to a period of disuse. Others have sometimes suffered a spell in the churchyard, removed from their original place in the chancel or nave by zealous Protestants. Those shown in today's photograph, examples that date from 1287 and 1370, must have had some such experience, so smooth are they worn. I came across them in the church of St Michael the Archangel, Laxton, in Nottinghamshire. They represent two members of the de Everingham family. Other effigies from this local dynasty (in  much better condition) can also be seen in the church.

Why did I pass by the better monuments to photograph this battered pair? I think it was because they reminded of the petrified bodies revealed in the excavations of Pompeii, and more particularly the drawings and sculptures of Henry Moore, especially those that he did based on people sheltering in the London Underground during the Blitz of WW2. The smooth undulations, softly modelled by the light from nearby windows echoed, for me, the reclining and supine, abstracted bodies of this early work from which he expanded into his less figurative mature phase.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2
Shutter Speed: 1/30
ISO: 160
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On