Wednesday 18 October 2017

'One of the great works of art of England'

I spent most of yesterday making a long day trip – much longer than it should have been, thanks to various train and taxi problems – into Suffolk. My destination was St Andrew's church in the village of Bramfield. It's a pretty and interesting church – detached Norman round tower, thatched roof, a splendid late medieval screen (detail below) – but I was there to see Nicholas Stone's great monument to Arthur Coke and his wife, Elizabeth, who died in childbirth, 'Christianly and peaceably', in 1627.
 It's an almost stark monument, in black and white marble, with virtually no ornamentation, and the kneeling figure of Arthur Coke, against the wall, is stern and stiff. All the interest lies in the alabaster effigy of mother and child, she reclining at peace with the babe in her arms. It's a piece of work so exquisitely carved that Sacheverell Sitwell describes the rendering of the mother's full sleeve, the pillows under her head and the coverlet over her body as 'worthy of Bernini'. He is right – and he barely exaggerates in declaring that 'This is one of the great works of art of England'. The same could be said, in my view, of a good many of the best church monuments of the early 17th-century golden age. It's a shame we have to travel so far and so long to see them. But it's worth it.

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