Monday, April 04, 2011

Films, paint and stone

click photo to enlarge
I was re-reading Oliver Rackham's fine book, "The History of the Countryside" the other evening when I came across an aside that registered more strongly with me than it had done the first time I saw it. Talking about the scope of his book in a chapter entitled "Animals and plants: Extinctions and new arrivals", he observes that "The history of cultivated plants and domestic animals is generally well known*.... The asterisk refers to a footnote which says, "But not to producers of historical films: they do not allow Charles I to fly in a plane, but they do let him ride among Corsican pine plantations or Frisian (sic) cattle."

The same could be said of the medieval architecture we see in films of that period. The interiors of churches, cathedrals and castles are invariably shown as they appear today: cut and pointed stone, carved stone, but barely a hint of paint. In fact, the use of paint in such buildings was widespread. Columns, capitals, window and door surrounds, vaulting and many other surfaces were covered with, in the case of ecclesiastical buildings, illustrations of Biblical characters and episodes, or exuberant decoration. Much of this was removed during the centuries following the Reformation, and the Victorians completed the job, at least until people such as William Morris proclaimed "Enough!" During the nineteenth century a number of churches were painted in the medieval manner, but those receiving "the full works" are few and far between. The church of St Michael, Garton on the Wolds, East Yorkshire, is one such example that I've photographed. One of the best original examples at Kempley, Gloucestershire, will the subject of an upcoming post.

I was thinking about this last week as I looked up at the crossing inside Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire. I was trying to imagine what the building would have looked like with painted capitals etc. The bands and rings of dark Purbeck marble of the thirteenth and fourteenth century stonework adds an element of colour, as does the painted vaulting, but other than that it is pretty much devoid of surface decoration. I rather think that I wouldn't like it to be painted, having become used to the unadorned stone!

Anyone who is a regular visitor to this blog will know of my liking for vaulting, and will have seen several examples. Each time I take such a photograph I search for a new approach. This time I stood under the arch between the nave and the crossing and let the receding verticals of the massive compound piers take my eyes upwards.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 17mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/15
ISO: 640
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: N/A