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Medieval Art in Focus II

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This study hopes to show that the present misericord is a singularly well-preserved example of English art from one of its richest periods: the first half of the 14th century. Specifically, it is a very eye-catching example of the ‘undulating’ style typical of what is known as the English ‘decorated period’ spanning the reigns of all the first Edwards, I to III, from the late 13th century to the 1360s. As with all convenient labels, the reality is more mixed and nowhere more so than at Gloucester where the first surviving example of the subsequent ‘perpendicular’ style can be observed. In this regard, the fact that it might be the only English medieval woodwork localisable to a particular place and time that has never been restored gains in importance. In the hope of placing it in the context of the famously unique set of misericords still in the choir stalls at Gloucester, “allowed to be some of the finest pieces of gothic carving in wood now remaining in England” according to Dallaway (1806), a brief stylistic and iconographic comparison with its peers is not only inescapable but may help understand all of them better and improve attempts at classification. This misericord stands out even from the high quality work at Gloucester but can be linked to a small subgroup of six misereres that share formal characteristics (as explained in appendix C). Investigating antecedents of its stylistic peculiarities shows that it is closer to manuscripts and sculpture of the earlier rather than mid fourteenth century such as the Ormesby Psalter and work in Bishop Salmon’s “Gate” at Norwich cathedral. Both its quality and the possible relation to manuscript or pattern book models raise the question of Court influence, and even more specifically, the involvement of a “master”, in execution as much as design. This somewhat hypothetical relation between Gloucester and Edward III’s master architects, masons, carpenters and carvers and their documented projects at St Stephen’s Chapel Westminster and St George’s Chapel Windsor is explored in order to put forward the following proposition: whether through royal links or just ecclesiastical patronage of master carvers, this misericord is likely to bring one closer to an idea of what the lost work at Westminster or Windsor might have looked like.

A newly discovered Misericord from Gloucester Cathedral (Abbey Church of St Peter) c. 1337-1360.

Description

59cm wide, trimmed to edge of roll-moulding, seat 16 cm deep. Oak, with one or more layers of paint and probably wax. A lion in combat with a wyvern, the lion delivering a mortal bite, the dragon on its back with its tongue forced out.

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