Monday, April 19, 2021

Salisbury, Wiltshire


Doomsday, 2

The painting of the Last Judgement in the church of St Thomas, Salisbury, is the largest of medieval ‘doom’ paintings and one of the clearest. It is, one could say, the rich cousin of the faded doom at Oddington that featured in my previous post. Details of costume suggest that it dates to the last quarter of the 15th century. Like nearly every English medieval church wall painting it was covered with whitewash some time after the Reformation, rediscovered (when traces of colour were noticed during cleaning) in the Victorian period, and restored. It doesn’t seem to be known for sure how much of the rich detail in the painting survives from the 15th century and how much was added by the Victorian restorers, but the overall effect is impressive – indeed, overwhelming – and when a visit is possible, I’ll be able to see has changed since the most recent restoration a couple of years ago and whether the process of conservation has yielded any more information about what the Victorian restorers did or didn’t add.

Meanwhile, even in my photographs, it’s a feast for the eyes. Christ sits at the centre, on a rainbow, with his feet resting on another rainbow. Beside him stand angels holding the instruments of the Passion (cross, crown of thorns, pillar, spear, sponge), and nearby are the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. Beneath the lower rainbow stand the 12 apostles. To the left, angels blow their trumpets to waken the dead, who climb from their tombs, some naked, some in shrouds, one with a hat on, another with a bishop’s mitre. Angels guide these righteous souls towards Heaven, the architecture of which awaiting in the background. To the right, devils chain up a group of souls and drag them towards Hell. Hell, as is common in such paintings, has the fearsome mouth of a monster, in which flames are licking the souls who have already been pushed inside.

Even if some of the detail may be attributable to 19th century restorers, this doom painting takes one back to the 15th century with a jolt. It’s a colourful scene (medieval churches were colourful of course), it teems with figures, it’s at home with symbolism, both the symbols of the Passion and the symbolic headgear of some of the participants – mitres and royal crowns are visible among both Heaven-bound and Hell-destined souls. This painting lacks the faded atmosphere of Oddington, but repays lengthy scrutiny in its details – where both God and the devil reside.
St Thomas, Salisbury, Heaven

St Thomas, Salisbury, Hell

1 comment:

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I think 15th century also for the impressive wall paintings at Pickering, Yorkshire. Something very jaunty and "cartoonish" about that one. Ninth-century paint detected at Deerhurst, Gloucestershire. The semi-relief of Our Lady and Child must have had painted features about a thousand years ago. At Cameley, Somerset, the coat of arms on the wall is the three lions of England, without the quartering of France, so pre-Edward III. How long did the paints last, if not whitewashed over? Clear painted design on the walls (It doesn't look renewed) at Ewenny Priory, Glamorgan, although it was used as a cattle-shed and exposed to the elements for a considerable time.