Wednesday 25 July 2018

The Balm of Coolth, and Factor Ignotus

With Southeast England still in the grip of the Great Heatwave, the dear old C of E seems to have woken up to the fact that it has a Unique Selling Point in all those stone-cool church interiors that never warm up, whatever the weather, and often feel colder than the outside even in winter. Canterbury Cathedral's Twitter account has posted an image of the crypt, and the message 'With temperatures set to reach 30C in Canterbury this week, come and escape the heat in the tranquil environment of the crypt.' And why not? More churches should follow their lead and open their doors to sunstruck visitors seeking the balm of coolth. Indeed more churches should open their doors full stop, but that's another subject.
  Needless to say, my cousin and I were in many a cool church interior on our travels last weekend, including all the medieval churches of Stamford, surely one of England's most beautiful towns. Two monuments stand out from this latest jaunt – both of outstanding quality, and both of unknown authorship. At Exton in Rutland, amid one of the finest arrays of monumental sculpture in the land, stands the hauntingly beautiful monument to Anne, wife of Lord Bruce of Kinlosse, who died in childbirth in 1627.
On a tall tomb chest in black and white marble, Lady Anne lies in her shroud (like Lady Berkeley at Cranford), her head resting on a pillow decorated with two cherubs' heads. Her pose is not as languid and Berniniesque as Lady Berkeley's, nor is her face as delicately pretty; Lady Anne's feature are more like those of Mrs Coke (who also died in childbirth) in Nicholas Stone's great monument at Bramfield in Suffolk. It's hard to believe Lady Anne's monument is not also by Nicholas Stone, but if it was, it would, like all Stone's major works, be documented in his meticulous business records. Clearly some unknown genius was at work here.
  And one must reach the same conclusion about the second outstanding monument of this trip. It stands in the Farnham chapel of St Bartholomew's church in Quorn (or Quorndon), Leicestershire (a family chapel that is normally closed to visitors, but we struck lucky). This monument, to one of many John Farnhams and his wife, is quite extraordinary, for several reasons, but chief among them is the carving of the two figures that lie atop the ornamental tomb chest.
There's something almost Mannerist about the elongation of their necks in those extraordinarily high-collared ruffs, and the curious, unanatomical curvature of their praying hands. The figures too seem elongated, and the whole monument has a tendency to a kind of abstraction and simplifying of forms that also suggests something of medieval statuary. I've never seen anything quite like this in any English church, and the two figures make a startling impact. The monument is clearly work of the highest quality – an impression enhanced by the relief panel that stands against an adjacent wall, but has always been part of the monumental composition. It was probably this panel, portraying scenes of military triumph, that led Mrs Esdaile to tentatively suggest Epiphanius Evesham as the maker of the monument. That attribution has since fallen out of favour – but if not Evesham, who? Another unknown genius? Once again a mystery. Factor ignotus.

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