Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ruardean, Gloucestershire

Hero in motion

Gloucestershire has a long border with Herefordshire, and it’s not really surprising that, in the west of the county, there are some examples of work by the renowned Herefordshire school of Romanesque sculptors, the artists responsible for churches such as Kilpeck and glorious works like the font as Castle Frome. One Gloucestershire example is the tympanum at Ruardean in the Forest of Dean. This shows St George killing the dragon, and a wonderfully vigorous carving it is, even if not quite up to the stellar standard of Kilpeck.

St George is on horseback, his mount stretched somewhat horizontally to fit the space, his cloak streaming in the wind,  his spear entering the dragon’s mouth. There’s the usual linear quality seen on many Herefordshire school carvings – it’s visible in the dragon’s head, the folds of the cloak and the saint’s ribbed lower garment. The horse is doing a good job of helping its rider by treading all over the dragon’s long, serpent-like body.

The horse’s elongated form, the blowing cloak, and the angle and thrust of the spear all give the carving a dynamism, as if the saint has made his strike while his mount is still moving at some speed. It’s an eye-catching image (it exhibits a wonderful collection of undulating curves that I find really effective), if not as well carved as some – Malcolm Thurlby in his book* on the Herefordshire school suggests that it may have been the work of an assistant to the master carver. Whoever did the work, it does a good job of conveying the power of the galloping horse and the thrust of the deadly spear.

- - -

* For more information on the Romanesque sculpture of this area, see Malcolm Thurlby, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture (Logaston Press, 1999)


bazza said...

I tried to get a 'bigger' view by searching Google Images but your photo is actually better. It looks like the doorway has been cleaned up. What time period are we looking at for this carving Philip?
(Incidentally you may be interested in my current feeble post about Letchworth Garden City)
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I'm not sure myself about the existence of a "Herefordshire School" - Kilpeck seems to be sui generis, and this isn't by "The Master of Kilpeck". It might be better to tackle the phenomena, and problems, one by one - especially if the "School" theory involves the moonshine of evoking "Scandinavian" or "Celtic" (What SORT of "Celtic"?) influences. More relevant would be the availability of material that could be worked with a chisel - by no means found in all regions, even in Gwent next door.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: We're talking 12th century.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: I just take 'school' to mean a group of sculptors working not far apart geographically / artistically. I agree about the vagueness of the talk of Scano-Celtic 'influences'.