Friday, January 21, 2011

Ledbury, Herefordshire


During the 13th century the Early English Gothic architecture described in the previous post became gradually more ornate, its surfaces and details more complex. Window tracery – the intricate patterns of stonework in the top of each window – developed and masons played increasingly elaborate variations on its design. Foliage carving became more naturalistic. There were new forms of arches and moulding. And vaults, in buildings that had them, got more complex too, their patterns of ribs mirroring the lace-like patterns of the window tracery. By the beginning of the 14th century, these developments had gelled to form the style that is now known as Decorated Gothic.

This window, in the parish church at Ledbury, is an example of the Decorated style in which the window tracery forms small pointed arches within the window’s larger pointed form, while in turn within these arches are fourfold lobed shapes called quatrefoils. This interplay of shapes and stone glazing bars of various thicknesses shows the 14th-century masons’ skill in creating patterns and rhythms.

Look closer, and it shows something else: their use of the spherical ornament called the ballflower. There must be hundreds of ballflowers on this window, running up the mullions, along the arches, and around the quatrefoils and other shapes. Their spherical bodies and three-lobed openings catch the sunlight and form strong shadows, breaking up the smoothness of the masonry and reminding us, if we need reminding, that Gothic architecture is always a matter of the play of light. The repetition of the ballflowers at Ledbury is almost obsessive, and one of the most extreme examples of a fashion common in this part of the west of England – such flowers run around the 14th-century windows of dozens of churches in Herefordshire and the neighbouring counties, from the humblest parish church to Hereford Cathedral itself. They form a signature motif of the western masons and a testimony to their artful manipulation of light and shade.

1 comment:

Terry said...

Thankyou. Beautiful. My introduction to ballflowers.