Tuesday 4 September 2018

A Fulham Monument

Having been laid low (well, lowish) by what is laughingly called a 'cold', I thought I'd recollect in tranquility my recent visit to All Saints, the parish church of Fulham, which stands on the edge of the Bishop's Park, by the river.
  All Saints is something of a treasure house, especially for a monument maniac like me. Perhaps the most outstanding monument is the one pictured above, doubling up as a handy place for displaying leaflets, a collection box and a scale model of the church. All these are arrayed on the black marble table on which stands the white marble statue of John Mordaunt, 1st Viscount Mordaunt (died 1675), in all his martial glory. The gauntlets and coronet that stand on the two outlying pedestals are part of the monument – which is, in design, a quite extraordinary one. Pevsner (or Bridget Cherry) describes these corner balusters as 'bleak, hard, bulging', and the monument as a whole as 'curiously dry and bare'. For Margaret Whinney (Sculpture in Britain, 1530-1830), however, the Mordaunt monument, the work of John Bushnell, is 'probably the finest tomb of the period'.
  For myself, I'm inclined to side with Whinney, while having doubts about the overall design. The figure of John Mordaunt – in particular the great sweeping folds of his cloak (very Baroque) – is carved with striking brio. Mordaunt's pose is bold and swaggering, the drama enhanced by the black backing that shows off his Roman profile. The projection of his right leg and the rightward turn of his head are balanced by the baton he is holding and the mass of gathered cloak around his waist and left arm. On closer examination, the swagger looks a little less assured, and it's hard not to smile at Mordaunt's elongated legs and Roman boots (a good thing there's a mass of cloak behind to soften the effect).
  Mordaunt was an ardent Royalist who was engaged in countless uprisings and conspiracies on behalf of Charles II, but who was widely mistrusted by others on the same side. Only the King seems never to have lost his faith in him, even pardoning him after he was charged with having imprisoned the Surveyor of Windsor Castle and raped his daughter. After this, however, Mordaunt retired to France for a long sojourn, returning to England to spend his last years quietly at Parson's Green.
  As for the maker of this monument, John Bushnell, he was a sculptor of great but wayward talent, who, having worked abroad for some years, returned to England with an arrogant attitude that did him no favours. High-handed and professionally unreliable, he became increasingly eccentric, spent much time pursuing futile law-suits, and in the end descended into madness. After his death, his house on Park Lane was found to contain the remains of several grandiose projects, including a Trojan horse designed to contain twelve men. He died intestate as well as insane, leaving two half-mad sons living among the ruins.

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