church of St Edmund, Warkton.
Clearly this was a sign, so on Saturday the cousin and I duly set off across three county boundaries to see for ourselves these remarkable monuments in their newly restored condition. They occupy the custom-built chancel of the parish church of a small, pretty (and publess) village northeast of Kettering, where they look entirely out of place, fabulously grandiose - and utterly stunning. There is no other word for the concussing impact of all that sparkling white marble, flooded in clear light from the huge east window. Involuntary 'Wow!'s are unavoidable. In art-historical terms, this is a collection of monuments of international importance, and there is nothing else like it in any English church.
The two Roubiliac monuments whose models I had seen are to John, 2nd Duke of Montagu (d.1749), and Lady Mary Churchill, Duchess of Montagu (d.1751). Lady Mary is figured in the first monument as the grieving widow, her anguished face upturned to a medallion portrait of the Duke.
The other Roubiliac monument is every bit as much a bravura display of the sculptor's art, but is made to a rather more artificial scheme. The muse Clotho spins out the thread of life, only for it to be cut by the shears of Atropos (her left hand resting on a skull, along with Clotho's right foot), to the horror of an onlooking Lachesis. Meanwhile two putti are busy adorning Mary's memorial urn.
What the Montagu monuments lack - apart from Christian content (only present in the last) - is true emotional impact, a real sense of grief. The 18th century was not too strong on this aspect of monumental art, but the Victorian period certainly was, and a monument from the 1850s that we came across in the little Derbyshire church of St Katherine, Rowsley (neo-Norman, by Salvin junior) was genuinely moving as well as being beautifully sculpted. It commemorates Lady John Manners and her daughter, who died soon after birth, followed within a fortnight by her mother. The work of a Scottish sculptor, William Calder Marshall, it deserves to be better known.