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The making of memorials

20 December 2013

Julian Litten reads beautifully illustrated conference papers

andrew spicer

Wall-painting: Abbess Jeanne-Baptiste de Bourbon (1608-70), depicted in Fontevraud chapter house; from Andrew Spicer's chapter in the book

Wall-painting: Abbess Jeanne-Baptiste de Bourbon (1608-70), depicted in Fontevraud chapter house; from Andrew Spicer's chapter in the book

Monuments and Monumentality across Medieval and Early Modern Europe
Michael Penman, editor
Shaun Tyas £35
Church Times Bookshop £31.50 (Use code CT853 )

THE 20 essays in this volume represent two-thirds of the papers delivered at the "Monuments and Monumentality in Later Medieval and Early Modern England" conference at the University of Stirling in August 2011. Funerary monuments have long been an object of academic study, and this volume is dedicated to pre-Restoration funerary sculpture in Scotland - a much-neglected area of study - and on mainland Europe.

Large tombs of the pre-Reformation period are rare in Scotland owing to the 17th-century despoilers of churches and cathedrals, but survivals tend to be of high quality and considerable sculptural talent, as outlined in Iain Fraser's excellent essay "Medieval Funerary Monuments in Scotland". Richard Fawcett's "Aspects of Scottish Canopied Tomb Design", and Richard Oram's "Bishops' Tombs in Medieval Scotland" flesh-out the geographical placement of such memorials in a monastic church, and the differential between tombs of the episcopacy and the nobility. Michael Penman's essay, "A Programme for Royal Tombs in Scotland: A Review of the Evidence, c.1093-c.1542" interweaves the royal monuments at Dunfermline, Cambuskenneth, and Holyrood into a fascinating narrative of patronage and hautes beaux-arts.

It is disappointing that only three of the essays relate to English funerary arts. Moira and Brian Gittos are represented by a joint paper, "The Medieval English Churchyard", in which they show, through research of surviving wills, and visitations to sites up and down the country, that such places were originally more densely powdered with monuments than scholars tend to infer. Jude Jones's article, "Early Modern Tomb Effigies and Mortuary Memorials 1500-1680", draws on comparative material on Tudor and Stuart tombs in 50 churches on the Hampshire-Sussex borders, while Claire Bartram's paper, "Commemorative Practices in Late Elizabethan Kent", takes the matter further in examining the activities of the antiquary Francis Thynne when he was recording monuments in that county between 1596 and 1598.

The part played by women both as subjects and originators of funerary monuments is described by Joana Ramôa Melo in her paper on the influence of women on the commissioning of funerary monuments in 14th-century Portugal, while the tombs of the extensive Polish nobility of the 16th century form the nucleus of a fascinating article by Jeannie Łabno. Saints as well as sinners have a space in this book, and Sheila Sweetinburgh is to be congratulated for her essay on the cult of Simon of Sudbury, in which she discusses his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral and its effect on diminishing the part formerly played by St Thomas Becket's shrine in the same building.

But it is not only monuments that are addressed. Stephen Mark Holmes has provided a paper on the use of William Durandus of Mende's mid-13th-century Rationale divinorum officiorum and its use in 16th-century Scotland as an encyclopaedic source for the allegorical interpretation of tomb-imagery. The book ends with a paper by Andrew Spicer on the restoration of royal tombs in early-17th-century France.

Penman is to be congratulated on the extensive index, an essay in the craft. The 142 colour plates are beautifully reproduced; that of the tomb of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (d.1404), in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, is almost sufficient reason in itself to buy the volume. This is the type of high-production book that can be read either in one go or chapter by chapter, from here to eternity.

Dr Litten is Vice-President of the Church Monuments Society.

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