Friday, June 6, 2014
Now and then
The entrance to Malmesbury Abbey contains some of the most celebrated Romanesque sculpture in England but, in this blog’s spirit of searching out the unregarded, I’m featuring today not the great carvings in the porch, but one of the bosses from the ceiling in the church itself. I’m not claiming greatness for this carving, just suggesting that bosses can give pleasure if we take the time look at them – armed perhaps with what their medieval creators could not have imagined, a pair of binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens.
This boss, then, is not a great piece of carving, but has some nice touches, such as the swirling hair and flanking leaves, to compensate for the rather small mouth and lack of modelling around the chin. I don’t know who it portrays – some say that it represents Margaret of France, second wife of Edward I. Margaret died in 1307 and the vault is early-14th century, so that’s a possibility. She was not formally crowned, so the carving’s lack of a crown doesn’t mean it cannot portray her.
The other interesting feature of the boss is the colour. I believe this was added during a restoration in the 1920s, but the yellow and terracotta shades and the gilding are probably not too far from the medieval colouring. However the overall effect is more modern somehow. Is it the blushing cheeks? Or the use of flesh tones that make it look as if the subject has naked shoulders? Whatever the case, the carving is now an interesting hybrid, part of the evolving and transforming history of the building that contains it.