A History of English Art in the Middle Ages

By O. Elfrida Saunders | Go to book overview

Chapter XIV GOTHIC ART: WALL- AND PANEL-PAINTING

THE most extensive and important Early Gothic paintings still existing are those in the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre in Winchester Cathedral: they illustrate the style in the early thirteenth century, when it was only just emerging from the Romanesque. They are in parts well-preserved, and cover the walls and ceiling of the chapel, which is under the organloft and is approached from the north transept. It is very dimly-lighted, and seems originally to have been intended to form an unusually elaborate 'Easter sepulchre' to contain the cross (symbolizing the body of Christ) during the liturgical celebrations of Holy Week. The principal subjects therefore represent scenes connected with the Passion of Christ. The best-preserved painting is now the 'Descent from the Cross' (fig. 48) on the upper part of the east wall. It shows Joseph of Arimathea lifting down the body of Christ, while the Virgin raises one hand and places it against her cheek. On the other side, Nicodemus with pincers takes out the nails which fasten Christ's feet, while the head of the centurion, and his arm holding a long scroll (which no doubt bore the words 'vere filius dei erat iste') emerge from the background. The head of Christ, which is particularly distinct, is full of dignity and pathos, and St. John's curving eyebrows and large eyes give an agonized concentration to his expression.

Below the Deposition is an Entombment, very faint. On the south wall of the chapel, above, is an Entry into Jerusalem fairly visible, with a boy in a tree and other figures issuing from the gateway with garments to spread before Christ (the figure of Christ to the right belongs to another scene, the Raising of Lazarus). Little is left of the Harrowing of Hell and the ' Noli me tangere' below, although the graceful bend

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