Friday, November 09, 2012

Arches, columns and colours

click photo to enlarge
Most of the interior wall surfaces of England's medieval churches and cathedrals are unadorned stone. Where this isn't the case they are generally painted with a light coloured wash, plastered, or decorated with painted patterns or pictures. In this country we've grown accustomed to the austere looking walls of stone, enlivened only by the occasional memorial tablet, hatchment, British Legion flag or Mothers' Union embroidery. But it wasn't always like this.

England's churches used to be as colourful as any to be found in Spain, Italy or France. In fact these countries were often the model for the painted patterns, figures and architecture that covered many walls. Figures such as St Christopher, Mary, King David with his harp, Adam and Eve; subjects such as the Last Judgement or the symbols of the Four Evangelists, and scenes from the morality tales provided instruction and illustration for the illiterate and decorative surroundings for all. Most of this painting was banished by the Protestant reformation, either physically removed or buried under limewash. Today some relics of these grand schemes can still be seen, examples that have been revealed by the painstaking removal of the covering paint. And, if you look carefully in the carved details of the sculpted figures and plants on column capitals or blind arcades you can often see traces of the original red ochre or blue paint that was quickly applied after the sculptors had finished their work.

We were in Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire recently, a building that has fragmentary examples of medieval painting still to be seen. However, as I walked down the south aisle of the nave it was a different kind of colour that was enlivening the unpainted stone of the twelfth century Norman columns and cushion capitals below the groined vaulting. The low November sun was shining through the Victorian stained glass, projecting its colours onto the stonework, temporarily returning long lost colours, but with hues and an intensity that the medieval artists could never match. It was a fine sight, and one that demanded a photograph.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 84mm
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/800
ISO: 1600
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On