Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Marian monogram and more

click photo to enlarge
The remains of original medieval painting is reasonably common in English churches though often it is in fragmentary form; for example details that have been uncovered during a restoration. However, there are some churches that retain fairly extensive schemes of wall painting, more have traces on roof timbers and quite a few, especially in Norfolk and Suffolk still have their painted rood screens. This kind of painting has sometimes been subject to sensitive restoration but often it appear to be entirely original work.

I recently came across a painted rood screen in Cambridgeshire at Ickleton church. The artwork was not as extensive or detailed as the East Anglian examples - there was no attempt as figure painting for example - but what it did have that caught my eye was a pair of fine monograms that were painted in colours that I really like. They were on the nave side of the rood screen doors. On the right was what is often called a "Marian monogram", one of the ways in which a couple of ornate letters (here Ms) decoratively entwined are used to represent the Virgin Mary. On the left was another monogram with the letters IHS, the semi-Latinized version of the first three letters of Christ's name written in Greek (IHΣOYΣ).

The two main colours the designer had chosen were fire-brick red and bottle green, reversing the colours on each door and using gold for the main lettering and for highlights in the cusp flowers and the surrounding leaf-like decoration. It is simple, effective and the colours are very well chosen. It is something of a minor tragedy that the puritanical outlook of the Reformation largely banished colour from English churches. Wall paintings were white-washed over, roof timbers were often painted too, or the colour was allowed to fade.  Pulpits, rood screens, reredos and other wood was similarly stripped of colour. It was not until the 1840s and the influence of the The Oxford Movement; of architects such as A.W.N. Pugin and writers and critics of the standing of John Ruskin, that colour on a medieval scale began to be seen again in English churches. It was principally the new buildings that were so adorned, and even then not all welcomed it. Many saw it as "Roman" and continued to prefer the more austere browns, blacks, greys and whites that had prevailed for a couple of centuries. It takes examples such as the woodwork in today's photographs to remind us that our churches during the medieval period were much more colourful places than they often are today.

photographs and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 30.1mm (81mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f4.5
Shutter Speed: 1/100
ISO: 2500
Exposure Compensation:  -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On