It’s only when you sit down to write a blog like this that you begin to see the threads running through your life more clearly. I quite obviously have a love of the art of the Dark Ages and the Medieval Period, it has surfaced so often in my life. So where does it come from?
I was born near the ancient Ridgeway, not far away from the great White Horse carved on the downland turf. Above the horse is a prehistoric encampment on a large scale and not far away Waylands Smithy, a chamber tomb. The whole area is rich in history. My father was a member of the Oxford Archaeological Society, I don’t think he went to their lectures, just helped them on digs. He knew all the legends of the area and made sure I knew them too. King Alfred was born in Wantage and I was familiar with his statue.
Dad took me to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford when I was quite young to see King Arthurs Jewel. My father’s favourite books were the stories of Sir Walter Scott with their Medieval themes. One of his jobs as a wartime fireman was to go around the area checking the fire hydrants. On one of these trips he took me to Fairford. We visited the church and saw the powerful stained glass windows of the Judgement. I didn’t have a chance, all these things were embedded in me!
Below. Alfred’s Jewel Below. Fairford. Last Judgement
Then of course I went to Corsham and was sent to Malmesbury and Dorchester. Since then I have seen so many works of art from that period that have astounded and delighted me.
The Cluny Museum in Paris, what a jewel. Their great treasure, The Lady and the Unicorn. Apart from anything else it is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, the tapestry so finely woven. The imagery reflects the sense of chivalry and romanticism of the time. OK, so it doesn’t show the Black Death, the poverty, the warfare, the sadlife that was experienced by so many but every age has their misery including our own. These pieces do give an insight into normal life in villages and towns too.
On one of our early trips abroad (when we used to take our car on the plane from Lydd airport) Robin and I went to look at the Bayeux tapestry. Most people have seen pictures but nothing quite prepares you for the real thing. This was before the days of interpretation centres etc. I don’t remember many people being there. It really is like a medieval comic strip with some of the humour too (considering what a bleak subject it is) The embroidery is quite simple but it does the job of telling the story admirably. I still love it!
Then there have been the later discoveries and surprises. When I started to teach textiles I discovered Opus Anglicanum in the V and A . English embroidery was a fine art treasured and sought after, all over Europe, it is still breath taking. They made the great copes and chasubles worn to practice the rituals of the church. The shape of these garments hanging in the V and A started me off on another track in my work of which more later!
Then there have been more recent discoveries, About four years ago I found myself in Girona, I knew there was a cathedral so of course I wanted to visit it. When in there I kept seeing signs pointing to The Creation. I bought a ticket and walked into this VERY DARK room. At first I was disorientated because my balance has always been poor and darkness makes it worse, I went further round a corner and saw the beginning of a bench and sat on it. I was the only one there. Then I saw this great piece of medeival cloth divided into segments showing such lively images of animals, birds, monsters, people. It was unexpected and breath taking. I made drawings but it wasn’t easy as it was almost pitch black in the viewing space. What a surprise I had known nothing about it before.
Girona Cathedral. The Creation
Above Girona detail. The Seasons
Below my drawing from the Burrell collection in Glasgow. Rabbiting.
Something that I have on my bucket list (which I now know I will never achieve) is to go to Anger to see the great tapestry of the Apocalypse there. There had better be another life because there is so much more to see in the world! I know there is a Leonardo there in Anger too. I wonder if I am the only person in the world if given the choice between owning the Leonardo and the tapestry, would choose the latter?
Below. The Apocalypse tapestry. Angers.
What do all these medieval and earlier works have in common? For one thing they were done before people called themselves ‘artist’. I’m not really sure what that says about me. I do admire the philosophy of William Morris. I suppose at heart I’m just a good old working class socialist. I want EVERYBODY to make and enjoy art of whatever kind because I know how it enriches life. END OF SERMON FOR TODAY!
I have made lots of things that have been influenced by my love of this period fused with the spirit of today.
Below. Drawing. My father playing his violin at the Waylands Smithy.
It’s really an ideal myth of all the things I want to remember about my father. He did play the violin, he did take me to the stones and tell me the old stories, he was interested in archaeology. Although he rejected me I don’t want to remember the bad side. I imagined all the good things in one image. Later I made a painting of him which I will post further along the line
Shadrach, Mishach and Abednigo in the Fiery Furnace.
I used to think I would like to own a medeieval ecclesiastical piecee. It wasn’t very likely so I decided to make something in the same spirit. This is the three holy men thrown into the fiery furnace!