Saturday 10 March 2018

To Firle

Yesterday I ventured into Bloomsbury country – not (you'll be unsurprised to learn) to pay my respects to Virginia, Vanessa, Duncan and co. at Charleston – but to visit St Peter's church in Firle village, which nestles, as they say, under the South Downs. This church is in the care of TV's Peter Owen-Jones, England's grooviest Rev., but I was not there to see him either. My destination was the Gage chapel of St Peter's, where I admired and photographed the fine alabaster effigies of Sir John Gage, a Tudor courtier, and his wife Philippa, which lie atop a plain chest tomb of elegant design.
 They lie with eyes open and hands pressed together in prayer (his rather crudely carved – perhaps repaired?). He, lying on a part-unrolled mat, wears his Garter insignia and the usual plate armour, she is in a relatively plain dress with an extraordinary, crisply geometric head-dress. Neither figure is quite in repose, nor quite 'alive'. Lady Philippa's face, however, is very sensitively modelled, as if from life, even though she and her husband were long dead when their monument was made in 1595. His handsomely bearded face is well modelled, but of a stock type. The coloration of the alabaster is lovely – these figures were surely never painted (as most were at the time).
 This beautiful monument is the work of one of the many Dutch monumental sculptors who came over in Elizabethan times to show us how it's done. Garret Jansen arrived from Amsterdam in 1567, set up a workshop in Southwark and anglicised his name to Gerard Johnson. By the 1590s he was getting commissions from some very grand families, who knew they were more likely to get quality work from the Dutch incomers than from native craftsmen. Two of Johnson's sons were also sculptors, and sadly one of them, Gerard junior, perpetrated the dire Shakespeare monument in Holy Trinity, Stratford-on-Avon.
 The Gage chapel at Firle is lit by a vibrantly colourful John Piper window (below) depicting the Tree of Life, and there's some good Victorian glass in the church. Happily nothing by Duncan Grant or Vanessa Bell.

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