Wednesday 2 August 2017

What Happened?

In Bloxham church, Oxfordshire, Sir John Thornycroft (d. 1725) reclines at ease, perfectly confident that the life to come will be every bit as agreeable as the present one, with frequent toga parties and ample opportunities for him to strike elegant poses and coin equally elegant bons mots. Pevsner describes the figure of Sir John, in periwig and 'diaphanous draperies', as 'effete' - and so he is, but his monument is sadly typical of an unfortunate phase in the history of English church monuments.
  The chapel that Sir John's monument attempts to dominate is a beautiful building, lit by large and magnificent Perpendicular windows. Its builders could have had no conception that it would one day house a monument of such absurd pretension (and such entire lack of any Christian content). What happened? And, more to the point, what happened in the decades between the golden age of English church monuments - the age of Evesham and Stone and the great artists from the low countries - and the coming into fashion of overblown Baroque monuments of this type?
 I guess the answer to that is the Civil War and the Restoration, a period that brought about a revolution in taste and attitudes. However, it still seems extraordinary that English men (and women) could suddenly regard it as perfectly normal to pose for their monuments in Roman dress, quite at ease in an imagined version of classical antiquity, as if nothing had happened between Roman times and the new Augustan age - except that periwigs came into fashion. No wonder there was, eventually, a reaction against these excesses in the form of an austere and 'correct' classicism. Being alien to the English temperament, however, this did not last long before the revivalist excesses of the Victorians swept it away, beginning the last great flowering of monument-making. After which - or in the course of which - this once great English art form went into decline and petered out.

I came across the Thornycroft monument in the course of a very fine church-crawl that took in three of Oxfordshire's finest - St Mary Bloxham, St Peter and St Paul Deddington, and St Mary Adderbury. After that I spent a few days with my cousin in Derbyshire where, among other things, I enjoyed a cello and piano performance in the magnificent setting of the StarDisc, and a muddy but very wonderful walk along the beautiful Chee Dale - that's a part of it below.


  1. I like the effect of the veil parting for him... the grey & stormy vista beyond. Maybe things won't be as easy and enjoyable as he expected?
    Also, has me thinking I'd like a book charting historical fad and fashion.

  2. Pevsner reckons it's a 'pyramid', but you could be right. Funny shape for a pyramid...

  3. Isn't this TS Eliot's famous "dissociation of sensibility" taking place around the time of Milton and Dryden? Much to recommend the period though, not least Pope and Swift.

  4. Yes, that hadn't occurred to me - indeed I'd forgotten about this idea of Eliot's. Evesham and Stone seem to inhabit the mental world of Donne and Marvell (Stone made the famous Donne monument), just as those later monument makers inhabit the mental world of Dryden and Pope. Something did indeed happen.

  5. I think it's to do with the growth of Science and its need for 'objectivity'. The Royal Society emerged, there was Descartes (and later Leibnitz) and Reason became something to be considered as an object. International philosophical discourse taking place (between Pope and Voltaire for instance). Did science "split" us?

  6. I think it did - and to judge by the effect on church monuments, this was not a good thing!