A History of English Art in the Middle Ages

By O. Elfrida Saunders | Go to book overview

Chapter VIII ROMANESQUE ART: SCULPTURE AND IVORIES

THERE is little sculpture in the south of England between the Norman Conquest and the middle of the twelfth century. Two stone panels, however, in the choir of Chichester Cathedral, which are carved with scenes from the story of the raising of Lazarus, are most probably works of the early twelfth century, although they have sometimes been assigned to the pre-Conquest period. They are about 3 feet square, and must once have formed part of a standing screen, but are now built into the wall. One represents the two sisters greeting Christ at the gate of the city, and the other (fig. 26) Lazarus rising from the tomb: the former is calm and dignified, while the latter, which would seem to be by a different hand, becomes almost grotesque in its attempt to express the emotional content of the occasion. The style of these slabs is unlike any other sculpture in England, nor has it affinities with English illumination, either Anglo-Saxon or Romanesque. Byzantine influence is evident, especially in the formality of the poses and the treatment of the hair, but the channel by which it was transmitted is a problem. There is none of the decorative movement of southern French sculpture. The reliefs may be compared with German ivories of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and perhaps still more closely with Spanish Romanesque sculpture such as the reliefs at Silos (casts of which are in the Victoria and Albert Museum). A detail in both these types of art which is reflected in the Chichester slabs is the drilling of holes in the eyes for the insertion of jewels or glass pastes.

Probably these sculptures show a reflection of continental style brought over to England by some travelling monk: if they represent a school of art in this country in the early Romanesque period, all other examples have been lost.

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