Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Beautiful New Frescoes by Martin Earle, Part 1

I was thrilled recently to receive pictures from the artist Martin Earle of these beautiful frescoes which he has lately completed in St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, in the West Midlands, England. They have been done as part of a continued re-orientation and renovation of the interior in order to correct the iconoclasm of the 1970s, a phenomenon with which most of us are, sadly, so familiar.

The exterior is unassuming though pleasing late 19th-century Gothic...

but the interior is spectacular!
Mr Earle, who painted them along with a significant contribution from his assistant Lisa Abbot, contacted me with the photographs. He told me:

“As I mentioned to you a while ago, I spent the first lockdown painting murals in a church in Warwickshire. We completed the works in August. The parish priest, Fr John Sharp, also commissioned me to design new stenciling and marbling in the nave and baptistery. There wasn’t a surface in the church that didn’t get a fresh coat of paint. We also uncovered the original, and beautiful, quarry tile floors which were also restored. Quite a transformation.

The frescoes are rather intricate - containing around 40 different persons from the Old and New Testaments. Our aim was to create a visual liturgical hymn to make present invisible realities. Fr Sharp has prepared a text about the paintings. (I will post this next week) The color scheme is as intense as the early medieval frescoes were in their heyday!”

The style is inspired by a mix of Byzantine and Romanesque elements which has become characteristic of English iconography in the modern era (under the influence of Aidan Hart). 

It is interesting to me that the schema consists of the recently completed frescoes, which are in the iconographic style incorporate paintings, but also a crucifix and paintings that belonged to the church prior to this. All have been handled in a harmonious fashion despite the differences in style. 

Here are some details. First on the east wall behind the tabernacle:
Christ in Majesty
On the north wall, to the left, if you are facing the tabernacle, St Francis of Assisi:
And on the south wall:
Noah and the Ark
Next week, I will post a description of the schema written by the parish priest, Fr John Sharp, who commissioned the work. I want to focus on this separately because it is worthy of special study, given that he has truly thought this out as liturgical art that accompanies the Mass, so that it might engage the faithful in the mysteries being celebrated.

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