Stained Glass at Gloucester

Fotheringhay was a great day out and made me think a little bit more about dead kings and cathedrals. Leicester Cathedral is quite an attraction since the bones of Richard III arrived. But are they really the last Plantagenet’s relics or a very elaborate modern hoax. You must be your own judge. Well at least Gloucester has a genuine King buried in its great Cathedral. Well if you believe that one…good luck. There is no proof it was even the alleged murdered sovereign at his own funeral, let alone whose body it is in the tomb. But oh what a tomb – probably the finest example of existing fourteenth century masonry and alabaster carving anywhere in the land. Do go and see.

Of course this short post is not about imaginary dead kings. It is about twenty first century stained glass. Well away from Edward’s tomb at Gloucester is the Thomas Chapel in the south east corner. A small chapel with fairly unexciting architecture compared to the rest but containing Thomas Denny’s 2014 stained glass windows depicting Thomas meeting the risen Christ, and the Creation of psalm 148. The window is dedicated to the Gloucestershire poet, Ivor Gurney, and reveals all manner of images in different lights.

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Thomas Denny’s triptych of Windows for the Thomas Chapel, Gloucester Cathedral (2014)

It is perhaps fitting that Denny also produced two windows for Leicester Cathedral. Inspired by the life of Richard III.

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One of the Thomas Denny windows inspired by King Richard III at Leicester Cathedral (2016)

I found the Thomas Chapel on a visit earlier this week to Gloucester Cathedral. This magnificent building has so many great architectural delights to take in but occasionally it is worth avoiding the big stuff and just sit and enjoy a quiet corner. Let everyone else go and hunt for the great Norman nave, the important history of the Perpendicular, or the Harry Potter cloisters and just take in the quiet solitude of the pilgrims church.

A question – Which is the largest Great East Window; Gloucester or York?

Fotheringhay and Royal History

Sandy Denny, while with Fairport Convention, wrote her very haunting Fotheringay in 1969 about imprisonment. Was it about Mary Queen of Scots or was it an allegory of the medieval, or general captivity of women? Virtually nothing exists now of Fotheringhay Castle. The Great Hall where the Stuart pretender Queen met her executioner in 1587 is gone; only the old keep mound, part of the silted up moat and a railed up piece of stone are there for the tourist. But the quiet solitude of the site and the village just hint at that lonely event so long ago. Do go to see Mary’s tomb in Westminster Abbey next to Queen Elizabeth’s to understand the importance of her life though.

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Artists impression of the sixteenth century castle at Fotheringhay with The Great Hall

Fotheringhay throws up another delight however, and the reason for our visit. The Church of St Mary and All Souls must be one of the finest examples of the fifteenth century English Perpendicular style as well as being the mausoleum for the Yorkist Dynasty of the Wars of the Roses a hundred years earlier. The collegiate church at Fotheringhay was founded by Richard, the second Duke of York, killed at Agincourt. Buried together at the altar are the third Duke and his brother Edmund, Duke of Rutland, both killed at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 pursuing the Yorkist cause. The Yorkist symbol of the fetterlock and falcon is everywhere. The most interesting being at the centre of the fan vault below the tower. Look for the wonderful painted pulpit, given to the church by Edward IV. 

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Interior of Fotheringhay Church with Fan Vault and Yorkist Falcon and Fetterlock

The real delight is the architecture. The fifteenth century parish church is pure English Perpendicular with a marvellous lantern tower at the western end. The York Window at the east end displays the symbols and arms of the Yorkists and was donated by the Richard III Society in 1975. What makes the building even more significant is its undoubted influence on St George’s, Windsor (Harry and Meghan). King Edward IV, who was brought up at Fotheringay was the major sponsor of the fifteenth century chapel at Windsor and it is impossible not to see the influence. How does this come about you ask. The parish church we see now is only part of the original fifteenth century structure. It was built on to the Duke of York’s collegiate church and cloisters, subsequently destroyed during the Dissolution. A model shows the original fourteen bay Perpendicular chapel with complete Nave, choir and lady chapel. The influence is complete when you learn that St George’s chapel was also to have a lantern tower. The fortunes changed after the Battle of Bosworth and the Windsor money ran out as the royal building programme moved to King’s at Cambridge, the Tudor project from Lancastrian (King Henry VI) origins. The lantern was never constructed.

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Model of the Duke of York’s full Collegiate church in its fifteenth century glory.

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St George’s Chapel, Windsor, 1475-1530.

So go to Fotheringay and have a drink or meal in the Falcon (named after the Yorkist symbol). Wander around this quiet village and consider the turmoil of the past. The wars with France, the Roses Civil war, the birthplace of Richard III and the religious conflicts of Tudor England. Imagine what an important castle stood above the River Nene, and where all the stone has gone from it and the college. Where are you with the polarised positions of Richard III or Mary Queen of Scots? And then… all this should inspire the tragic Sandy Denny to pen her beautiful allegory of imprisonment.

How often she has gazed from castle windows o’er,
And watched the daylight passing within her captive wall,

Tomorrow at this hour she will be far away, Much farther than these islands,             Or the lonely Fotheringay

 

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The Church of St Mary and All Souls Church, Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire, c1434.

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The York Window, donated by the Richard III Society 1975. Note the boar, Richard’s symbol.

Oxford (again) and Modern Drawing

Frantic. That is how modern living can be described. Last Saturday we were in Oxford showing off the Pitt Rivers Museum to Ellie, and finding a good seat for the World Cup Quarter final. Then all the business of a week in retirement, not to mention exit from said competition and here I am back in Oxford again. This time at Modern Art Oxford, for a rare drawing exhibition.

Drawing as an art form had a very difficult twentieth century when attempts were made by art schools to render it obsolete. Luckily we have all come to our senses and drawing is back. Not just the renaissance and historical drawings that the Ashmolean, Fitzwilliam and British Museum are famous for (not to mention the Royal Collection at Windsor) but modern and post modern gems.

The latest exhibition at Modern Art Oxford,  A Slice Through the World “updates and challenges some of the ideas tested during an important moment in Oxford art history, namely the international group show”; Drawing 1972. There is so much to see here that shows the modern artists at their creative best, but not ignoring traditional ideas and materials. Aura- Natasha Ogunji opens the show with The proof, an undersea volcano, attraction, extraction, distraction, 2017. Ink, graphite and thread on tracing paper display several levels in the artist’s mind and the lightness of the paper shimmers in the breeze within the gallery. Are the figure(s) gods above the abstract lava flows? Blue flows replacing the red of molten rock and are the threads part of the human figures or part of the lava flow? Take your time to take in the messages. Leave the frantic world outside.

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Aura-Natasha Ogunji, The Proof, an undersea volcano, attraction, extraction, distraction, 2017.

Laid out on trestle tables like an exam room (Oxford) are 100 pages of an atlas of Europe, pages blacked out with graphite, except for single white spots denoting each settlement. Are we being asked to look at our busy continent as if we would view the night sky. There are no borders here, no history, no prejudices, no conflict – just that tranquility and intrigue we enjoy when we look at the stars on a stlll moonless night. And yet there is the blackness of the sea which like space is the emptiness that is necessary to define the boundaries.

There are, of course, traditional pencil on paper figurative work and the best of these can be found in the Piper Room. The theme here is that the artist has adopted other media, mainly photography, and created their own forms. Most importantly the moment has been celebrated by the artist rather than simply copying the event in film. Look closely at Nidhul Chamekh’s Trois Poses De Fadhel Sassi, 2016, made from burned bread and charcoal on canvas. The original photos were of Fadhel Sassi, a Tunisian professor being assassinated During the bread riots of 1984. Where there was no movement in the original, Chamekh has subtly reframed them and reorganised them to tell his story. Grim as it is it is important for journalists to record the event and for the artist to prick our consciousness  the spiritual meaning.

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Nidhul Chamekh, Trois Poses De Fadhel Sassi, 2016

Next door is Barbara Walkers brilliant graphite on embossed paper, Untiltled, 2018 with its relevance to this years commemoration. The medium allows for the military actions of the black soldiers, marginalised by history to receive a special presence, juxtaposed with the embossed removal of their white colleagues. 

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Barbara Walker, Untitled 2018

To me there are three types of drawing to see at exhibitions. There are the preparatory sketches necessary in the development of paintings and sculpture. There are the drawings and cartoons that have been created through history which, due to the fame of the artist and his other works, have become works of art in their own right. Then there are those drawings that are created to stand alone and individual. This exhibition at Oxford is a celebration of these in the modern era. Set in the calmness of this wonderful inner city space these works invite a reverence that is not unlike a medieval cathedral. Don’t rush through but take time and the spirit of these works will reveal themselves to you. What you see in a drawing is more of the artist’s mind than probably any other art form.

They are of course a few high energy works. Look for Disgrace I, II, III & IV, 2009, where Kate Davis, while acknowledging Amedeo Modigliano’s vacuous female nudes, has also chosen to confuse your senses with her own image. She has taken / appropriated some of Modigliani’s drawings from a monograph and superimposed lines and marks which she traced around her own body. While your first impression is one of desecration you start to see the intermingling of the bodies and some substitution, and again what she is saying with the strength and emotion lost in other media.

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Kate Davis, Disgrace, 2009

You may gather from all this that I believe in drawing as the primary elemental artform , even the essence of art going back to the caves and the starting point for everything else. Enjoy the great drawings of the renaissance of course but also come here for raw beauty and emotional consciousness.

A Slice Through the World is at Modern Art Oxford until 9th September