Monday, February 1, 2016

Rendcomb, Gloucestershire

Pattern language

Boldly incised Norman piers, carved with patterns such as spirals and chevrons, occur only now and then in parish churches. Usually this kind of treatment appears in high-status churches – the famous nave of Durham Cathedral, the crypt at Canterbury, Norwich Cathedral, and so on. I’ve also noticed a Saxon version in the very special crypt at Repton. But by and larger one finds plainer piers in smaller churches, though perhaps their generous cylindrical surfaces were once enlivened with bold painted patterns.

How refreshing then, to come across such columns in a smaller church – but in miniature, in the carved relief around the Norman font at Rendcomb. This lovely font depicts eleven of the apostles plus a blank space for the twelfth, Judas, in Romanesque arches with incised patterns – chevrons, lozenges, spirals, and so on, very like their enormous cousins at Durham. The figures are boldly carved and their garments are carved with bold incised patterns that reflect and complement those on the columns. There is also some rather Classical framing ornament  – a version of Greek key and some stylised foliage that seems to have taken its inspiration from anthemion at the top and bottom of the font respectively.

The font has had a chequered history. It doesn’t seem to have started life in this church, but was brought here by the Guise family, who owned the great house (now Rendcomb College) nearby for use as a garden ornament. In the middle of the 19th century someone recognised its worth and the font was moved inside the church. It seems to have endured all this quite well, although the key pattern at the top looks as if it has been curtailed at some point. Overall though, this is still a belter of a font, and a joy to find in a small and little regarded church.

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