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  • 16,000 buildings. One resource.
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  • 16,000 buildings. One resource.
  • 16,000 buildings. One resource.
  • 16,000 buildings. One resource.
  • 16,000 buildings. One resource.
  • 16,000 buildings. One resource.
  • 16,000 buildings. One resource.

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Gothic Wonder, Art Artifice and the Decorated Style 1290-1350, Paul Binski (Yale University Press £40)

In 1817 the antiquarian Thomas Rickman set out to define three distinct periods of English Gothic architecture: Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular.

This beautiful and highly illustrated book focuses on the decorated Gothic style dominant in England from 1290 to 1350, a style perhaps overshadowed in literature at least by the Perpendicular style that gave us fan vaulting and King's College Chapel Cambridge.

Paul Binski amply demonstrates that the period 1290 to 1350 was one of seemingly endless architectural invention. It was the period that used the curvilinear line, imaginative vaulting and window tracery and gave us ogees and nodding ogees.

In architecture alone, this period produced the Eleanor crosses, astonishing vaulting in Norwich Wells and Exeter cathedrals, exquisite chapterhouses, the ornate Prior's doorway in Norwich cathedral, the pinnacles, gables and pierced work of Edward II's tomb in Gloucester and Exeter's virtuoso oak bishop's chair. Perhaps most spectacular and inventive of all in 1321 work began on the Lady Chapel at Ely with its extensive range of nodding ogee hooded chapter seats embellished with swaying figure forms and stories told across minutely decorated surfaces . Miraculously an arguably more inventive and impressive solution was found when the crossing tower of Ely cathedral collapsed in 1322 and a wooden octagon topped with a vaulted lantern were constructed over the same 30 years as Ely's Lady Chapel.

Binski argues that much of the inspiration for this work came from an extended royal workshop based in Westminster: architects, master builders carpenters, goldsmiths and other artists and craftsmen such as those working in textiles on the world renowned opus anglicorum embroidery. He demonstrates the considerable cross-fertilisation from one art form to another and from building to building. The similarity of the vault of Wells chapter house and the vaulting surrounding the Ely lantern are striking.

Further he argues that St Stephen's Chapel in the Palace of Westminster, built from 1290s by Michael of Canterbury and the royal workshop, was the source for many of the stylistic elements both of the Decorated and the Perpendicular styles, through a small number of practitioners and patrons. On the face of it, it seems extraordinary that one building, sadly now destroyed by fire, could produce the serpentine-like forms of the Decorated style and the rectangular forms of the perpendicular style, but it is a convincing argument.

Whether you accept his argument or not, Professor Binski of Cambridge University is immensely knowledgeable in the building, the architecture and all the decorative arts of the period and it is a joy to go on the journey with him. I loved following the development of work by families such the Ramseys in Norwich and Ely. I enjoyed having pointed out that the remarkable painted bosses that decorate the length of the nave vaults at Norwich Cathedral and its cloisters took over the figurative storytelling that was previously the preserve of capitals. It had also never occurred to me that the heart shape we see everywhere today in popular iconography is of course with its convex/concave curves and pointedness an invention of the Decorated period.

My only criticism is that in pursuing his stylistic arguments he perhaps overlooks creations that don't fit, such as the extraordinarily naturalistic carvings of at least 12 different types of leaves in and around the chapter house at Southwell.

But that's a minor gripe. What I particularly love about this book is that it demonstrates really forcefully the astonishing creativity, invention and ingenuity of all the Gothic periods of architecture and arts in England. It is one of the happy duties of the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division to encourage more people to find out about the wonders to be discovered not only in our heroic cathedral buildings and major churches but in many smaller parish churches the length and breadth of the land.

Janet GoughDirector, Cathedral and Church Buildings Division
Her forthcoming book on the Cathedrals of the Church of England will be published by Scala in June 2015

Binski 20-8-14

With Love among the Ruins, a composition in watercolour, body colour and gum Arabic by Sir Edward Burne-Jones fetching £14,845,875, a record price at auction in July, now is an appropriate moment to review Fiona MacCarthy's splendidly comprehensive 536-page biography of Burne-Jones and his role in developing taste in late Victorian England.

The book is an absorbing read, making the connections in Burne-Jones's life and work with those around him in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, in the school of Holland Park and his interaction with a younger generation of artists. All to be expected given MacCarthy's earlier work on William Morris, but also very significant in establishing the major impact Burne-Jones had on the radical art and ideas of the 20th century.

Burne Jones, especially in his work with Morris and Co., also contributed significantly to the decoration of church buildings. At one point he was designing almost one new stained glass cartoon a week. And it wasn't only stained glass; see the Adoration of the Magi tapestry for George Gilbert Scott's gothic revival chapel at Exeter college, Oxford (and other versions in Roker church, Sunderland and elsewhere)

Therein lies an interesting crossover between fine and decorative arts. Burne Jones used The design of this tapestry as the basis for a later painting, the Star of Bethlehem. Certainly too some of his most sophisticated stained glass design for church buildings, such as The Last Judgement east window for St Michael and St Mary Magdelane, Easthamstead, Berkshire 1775, is described by MacCarthy as 'one of the great glories of Victorian church art'. It would be wonderful to have a full gazetteer of Burne-Jones and Morris and Co. stained glass in church buildings.

A relief too to be able to look at Victorian churches for once not in terms of their churchmanship in determining why a particular decorative scheme was selected. Even in Burne-Jones’s church designs we sense the Aesthetic Movement emphasis on beauty and art for arts sake.

One shocking element to the modern reader we discover about Burne-Jones and several of his friends was the intimate and ambiguous relationships they developed with young girls of their acquaintance. Something that would not be tolerated today given our concerns over safeguarding.

What a great outcome if the huge commercial interest in Burne-Jones's painted works could have a knock-on effect in appreciation of his stained glass in churches. In the Church Buildings Council's 100 Treasures in Church Buildings Campaign to be launched in October to save our most at risk treasures there are several Burne-Jones windows that need conserving and there are more that need help. Ironically Burne-Jones's painting Love among the Ruins needed conservation in Burne-Jones's lifetime after a Parisian photographer washed it over with white of egg to make it shinier, thus destroying the surface. Luckily Burne-Jones repaired the damaged heads shortly before his death and the rest of the painting was later conserved by his former assistant.

Janet Gough

13 August 2013

The Last Pre-Raphaelite. Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination, by Fiona MacCarthy 2011 (paperback edition 2012). Published by Faber and Faber. Available in the ChurchCare Library, Great Smith Street, London.

Autumn 2013 bedazzled our artistic senses with three welcome additions to already rich libraries. The last to hit the streets was in some ways the most notable: Peter & Linda Murray’s Oxford companion to Christian art and architecture seemed irreplaceable, but the irrepressible Tom Devonshire Jones, at considerable cost to himself, has undertaken a major expansion of this classic work to bring it up to date.

Some entries in the newly entitled Oxford dictionary of Christian art and architecture show no change, for instance the entry for James Gibbs the architect of St Martin in the Fields where the new edition was launched. However sections on architectural styles are not only highlighted but also improved and in some cases expanded thanks to Allan Doig’s substantial contribution. Devonshire Jones’ stamp of authority is discernible in the addition of new entries to reflect a changing art scene as well as advances in learning during the 17 years that separate the two editions. We now find celebrations of the work of Cecil Collins and Graham Sutherland, as well as younger living artists like Stephen Cox and Mark Cazalet.

Sadly Peter Murray died in 1992 while this important compilation was in the making, but notwithstanding Linda Murray went on to complete the venture, as Michael Freeman records in the preface “with characteristic self-discipline and courage”. Compared with the original the absence of any illustrations in the new edition might frustrate some readers particularly those who might be considered to benefit most from the wisdom imparted between its covers. After all this is a work about the visual arts in their many manifestations.

The inclusions are as notable as the exclusions – Cazalet, for instance, who works across a range of media, is the subject of an entry but Bill Viola, video artist, is not. Infuriatingly the Cazalet entry ends with the instruction “See weblinks” but the URL is not given and those who are computer illiterate are disenfranchised. Similarly there is no bibliography, requiring consultees to have access to the web. Once one accepts this limitation, the value of the new edition can only be applauded for updating a key work of reference.

If the absence of images in a critical reference work is dismaying, their paucity has to be a let-down for the admirable reflection on The Cross and Creation in Christian liturgy and art by the eminently placed Canon Christopher Irvine. The emphasis on liturgy and the Word is reinforced by its publication by the Alcuin Club – the art appears to be subliminal (a mere 7 plates), which is perhaps sad given the power of art and imagery to influence how individuals see Christianity and how closely bound up with visual expression Christian thinking is both in the past and in the 21st century. Canon Irvine would have us respond and think about three-dimensional spaces through language rather than visual stimuli. As someone who was once expected to write an essay about the Temple of Apollo at Bassae without having seen it and was informed that this would be a considerable challenge (and therefore I might fail), I can attest to the difficulty of conveying the power of place and space through words alone. To experience it is all the more important and imagery is therefore helpful if that is the only way to enjoy the experience.

Perhaps it is wrong to consider this book purely in art historical terms. Its interest for many readers will be the lustre it adds to our understanding of liturgy. Irvine sets out to explore the cross as ‘the ubiquitous symbol of Christianity life and worship’ by examining its place and function in the architectural setting of Christian worship, considering the artwork placed in theses spaces, and its role in ritual and worship. The reader is drawn into a search that begins with timber as used to create a physical cross through the idea of the flowering cross to the meaning of Creation and the Tree of Life.

By leaving until last Richard Harries’s book The image of Christ in modern art, I do not necessarily promote this work above the others. It does however win hands down for being well and appositely illustrated given that it addresses representations of Christ in the visual arts since the turn of the last century. Bill Viola makes it into this book though Cazalet earns more references. The book emanates from a series of illustrated lectures that Harries gave at the Museum of London surveying the depiction of Christ from the German Expressionists through to the contemporary art scene in the 21st century. Indeed the selection of Roger Wagner’s Walking on Water III the cover is utterly compelling if, like me, Battersea Bridge and the incomplete power station that dwarfs the human figures was a familiar sight to and from shopping expeditions to get cheap food in post-War London.

Harries charts a chronological path through specific movements and their responses to the world around them in their representations of Christ. Many of the images provoke and are far removed from the anodyne, static depictions familiar for instance in C19 stained glass. Some C20 images might even trace their descent from Holman Hunt’s Light of the World, and unsettle and disturb much, if not more so, than some of the schlock associated with the Counter-Reformation. The impact of global and devastating conflicts and the banality of celebrity culture influence responses as we seek peace and tranquillity while trying to comprehend a bewildering barrage of suffering and shallowness. Harries is an informed guide through this complex world, and we emerge with him in believing that the modern movement in art is a friend rather than a foe of Christian art.

For more information on commissioning new art for your parish church, please click here where you will also find a guidance note to help you select an artist.

The second edition of The Oxford dictionary of Christian art and architecture is published by Oxford University Press at £35.00. ISBN: 978-0-19-968027-6.

The Cross and Creation in Christian liturgy and art by Christopher Irvine is published by SPCK for The Alcuin Club at £19.99. ISBN: 978-0-281-06908-8.

The image of Christ in modern art by Richard Harries is published by Ashgate at £19.99. ISBN: 978-1-4094-6382-5.

With Love among the Ruins, a composition in watercolour, body colour and gum Arabic by Sir Edward Burne-Jones fetching £14,845,875, a record price at auction in July, now is an appropriate moment to review Fiona MacCarthy's splendidly comprehensive 536-page biography of Burne-Jones and his role in developing taste in late Victorian England.

The book is an absorbing read, making the connections in Burne-Jones's life and work with those around him in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, in the school of Holland Park and his interaction with a younger generation of artists. All to be expected given MacCarthy's earlier work on William Morris, but also very significant in establishing the major impact Burne-Jones had on the radical art and ideas of the 20th century.

Burne Jones, especially in his work with Morris and Co., also contributed significantly to the decoration of church buildings. At one point he was designing almost one new stained glass cartoon a week. And it wasn't only stained glass; see the Adoration of the Magi tapestry for George Gilbert Scott's gothic revival chapel at Exeter college, Oxford (and other versions in Roker church, Sunderland and elsewhere).

Therein lies an interesting crossover between fine and decorative arts. Burne Jones used the design of this tapestry as the basis for a later painting, the Star of Bethlehem. Certainly too some of his most sophisticated stained glass design for church buildings, such as The Last Judgement east window for St Michael and St Mary Magdelane, Easthamstead, Berkshire 1775, is described by MacCarthy as 'one of the great glories of Victorian church art'. It would be wonderful to have a full gazetteer of Burne-Jones and Morris and Co. stained glass in church buildings.

A relief too to be able to look at Victorian churches for once not in terms of their churchmanship in determining why a particular decorative scheme was selected. Even in Burne-Jones’s church designs we sense the Aesthetic Movement emphasis on beauty and art for arts sake.

One shocking element to the modern reader we discover about Burne-Jones and several of his friends was the intimate and ambiguous relationships they developed with young girls of their acquaintance. Something that would not be tolerated today given our concerns over safeguarding.

What a great outcome if the huge commercial interest in Burne-Jones's painted works could have a knock-on effect in appreciation of his stained glass in churches. In the Church Buildings Council's 100 Treasures in Church Buildings Campaign to be launched in October to save our most at risk treasures there are several Burne-Jones windows that need conserving and there are more that need help. Ironically Burne-Jones's painting Love among the Ruins needed conservation in Burne-Jones's lifetime after a Parisian photographer washed it over with white of egg to make it shinier, thus destroying the surface. Luckily Burne-Jones repainted the damaged heads shortly before his death and the rest of the painting was later conserved by his former assistant.

Janet Gough

13 August 2013

The Last Pre-Raphaelite. Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination, by Fiona MacCarthy 2011 (paperback edition 2012). Published by Faber and Faber. Available in the ChurchCare Library, Great Smith Street, London.

This glossary covers common terms and initials you might come across when dealing with the maintenance, conservation and development of church and cathedral buildings.

Click here to see a Glossary of Terms.

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