Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Not Just Illuminations! Historical Wall Paintings of the Gothic School of St Albans

Recently, I suggested that Matthew Paris and other artists of the 14th Gothic illuminations (which I have called the “School of St Albans” after the town where Paris lived and worked) might be a model for the reestablishment of a liturgical style for the Roman rite, in the way that the Eastern Church so successfully reestablished the iconographic tradition for the Byzantine liturgy in the middle of the 20th century.

One reader wondered if it would really be possible to adapt a style that is known largely as one for book illuminations and on a small scale to full-scale liturgical art. This was a very good point. I responded that I thought that it was possible and speculated as to how I might do it. Two people have separately reminded me of the existence of wall paintings in British churches from the 14th and 15th centuries that bear the essential characteristics of the School of Saint Albans, and perhaps demonstrate to artists today a way in which a modern style that builds on this foundation might be done on a large scale. Thanks to Deacon Lawrence Klimecki and Gina Switzer for this. (Both of themm are working artists who are taking the Pontifex University Masters in Sacred Arts).

We have seen many of these images before on this site, but it wasn’t until recently I made the stylistic connection of the illuminations of the time. The most famous church of this style is St Cadoc’s in Glamorgan, Wales.

Just to remind you, here is an illumination of shepherds being informed of the birth of Our Lord:

What characterizes this style for me is the heavy emphasis on line to describe form, rather than tonal variation; restraint in the use of color, so that often the surface that is painted with egg on parchment shows through and plays a part in the image; a higher degree of naturalism in the drawing than Romanesque or other iconographic art. However, like iconographic art, it lives in the plane of the painting; there is little perspective and depth in the image, so that it has an other-worldly and symbolic feel to it.

Now here is St Cadoc’s in Wales, and then some paintings from the interior.

What strikes me about this style is that it will be on a practical level easier to produce as wall paintings. An artist who know what he is doing do such paintings in fresco or on panels quickly and easily and well. This will help to bring down costs for commissions, and increase sales for artists who are looking to make a living.

Here are two more from different churches in England: first, an image of St Catherine in the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Pickering, Yorkshire.

The following are at St Mary, Lakenheath, Suffolk, England.

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