Salisbury was our stopping off point last week on our way to the coast. The last visit before further relaxation of lockdown measures. It was strange to see the medieval town so empty and the cathedral closed. Still the City looked great bathed in Spring sunshine, unlike the last few days.
Salisbury Cathedral is unique amongst our great gothic buildings, being mainly of one style. The cathedral was built in only thirty eight years, being completed in 1258. Together with Lincoln the cathedral is a supreme celebration of what came to be known as Early English Gothic. The main external features which defines this style is the tall lancet windows and great sense of height. These windows bridge the gap between the small romanesque openings and the highly intricate traceries which followed as the masons began to understand their buildings and open them up to the light. The unity we see at Salisbury is plain to see in the repetition around the structure.
Salisbury has a number of other features which make a visit in normal times so worthwhile. You can find one of the most complete cathedral close’s in Britain, a wonderful medieval clock and the best preserved of the Magna Carta copies. The internal stonework of the nave is worth noting when the cathedral opens again. The building is very light from using Chilmark stone but is augmented by the darker coloured Purbeck Marble columns.
John Constable is among the many artists who have visited and produced great paintings of the cathedral. His two renowned views are Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Garden, painted in 1823, which is The V&A with a replica copy in the Metropolitan in New York, and Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, 1831, in the Tate Collection. Both these paintings can be regarded as supreme examples of Constable’s mastery of landscape, but also his innovation of method, which would inspire the Impressionists nearly half a century later. We saw The Meadows a few years ago at St Davids in Pembroke when the painting was on tour around the U.K.
Of course the iconic building features in much art over the last two hundred years including Turner’s External and internal views and numerous contemporary images. Close to my heart is an embroidered view that my mother completed in around 1954, which hung in our hall all throughout my childhood. It looks like she sat at the same spot as the great man to do her sketch! This iconic spire, the highest in Britain seems to have been etched into my subconscious from my earliest memories.