Tuesday, 26 September 2017

A Face from the Past

This face, I feel sure, is going to haunt me for a long time. It is that of Sir Adrian Scrope (died 1623) as carved by - who else? - Epiphanius Evesham for Scrope's monument in the remote Lincolnshire church of St Leonard, South Cockerington.
 Sir Adrian (of whose life almost nothing is known) reclines on one elbow, the hand of his other arm on his breast, his head raised as if listening intently to something, or lost in thought. His sword lies beside him, his helm behind, his gauntlets under one armoured knee. He wears a fine collar and a sash that still retains a little colour. On two beautifully carved panels below him on the tomb chest his sons and daughters are artfully arranged. The tomb is of alabaster, but Sir Adrian's effigy is of grey limestone, and has been knocked about a bit, as is so often the case with these monuments, great works of art though they are.
 What is remarkable - indeed unnerving - about this effigy is how extraordinarily real it seems, how completely natural and unforced the pose is. When you enter the church, it really does look as if some visitor has decided to rest awhile on a tomb chest. And then, when you look at that face,  when you look into those eyes - or rather try to; the eyes are always elsewhere - it is absolutely like looking at the face of a living person, of a person who has lived. What is that face saying? Is it telling us anything, or is that gaze purely inward?
 This is certainly a man facing the end of his life, not one newly awakened at the general resurrection of the dead, though a similar pose was often used in resurrection monuments. Indeed that semi-recumbent pose was, sadly, to become standard for a host of intensely relaxed aristos on a host of overblown Baroque tombs. But there is nothing relaxed about Sir Adrian, and nothing overblown about his monument. Indeed there's nothing really Baroque about it - that face, in particular, could have been carved at any time. There is something universal about it. Perhaps, when we look at it, we are ultimately looking at ourselves.