THE churchwardens’ accounts of a parish where I served one of my first ministries are usually cited for the first instance of “hobby horse”. Under King Philip and Queen Mary, the good folk of St Mary the Butts, Reading, in 1557, paid for entertainment that included mummers.
The Speaker of the House of Commons and a former Attorney General have recently popularised the re-reading of 17th-century jurists. It will be no surprise to them that the author of The History of the Pleas of the Crown, Chief Justice Matthew Hale MP (1609-76), averred that “Almost every person hath some hobby horse or other.”
Children riding on hobby horses, urging them on with flails, and strutting on wicker stilts appear as early as the middle of the 15th century in a pair of roundels depicting games in Burgundy. One child wears a plaited reed hat of stems which is topped off with flowers, while two others wear the latest fashionable headgear of bound cloth. Only one is bare-headed, with the enviable golden curls of youth picked out in yellow silver stain on the forest glass.
Bringing together works collected over ten years, Sam Fogg shows pieces from as early as the 1250s to the eve of the Reformation; a sleep-filled Jesse is attributed to Gauthier de Campes (doc. 1500-30) and a Virgin in prayer at the nativity comes from Normandy around 1530.
Not for the first time, I was taken by two panels that depict St Nicholas of Myra with a barrel of youths he is about to rescue. In one, from Rouen, which is one-and-a-half metres tall, a lad ahead of the game is trying to climb out of his imprisonment (Guillaume Barbe, attrib., c.1465-70), while a slightly later mouchette panel from northern France may have been commissioned by merchants around 1520.
Alongside these panels of glass that betray signs where the artist’s stylus has etched a line or used the fold in the glass itself to suggest drapery are a number of ecclesiastical treasures, including a south German standing monstrance on which is engraved Veronica’s veil held up by angels, and a chrismatory composed of five 13th-century Limoges panels.
An excellent online catalogue of 132 pages accompanies the exhibition and can be found at www.samfogg.com.
“Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass: 1250-1550” is at Sam Fogg Ltd, 15D Clifford Street, London W1, until 25 October. Phone 020 7534 2100.