Sunday, April 24, 2016

What's With Medieval Tombs? Part 19: Animals on Tombs (2)

  The first posting on this topic examined some of the generic types of animals depicted on tombs and what they signified in general terms. In this post I will look at some more specific examples of how animals were used in a way the referred to particular individuals. One of the ways of individualising tombs was through the use of heraldry, as the depictions of the actual effigies were generally highly generic and indistinguishable. Animals had their place in achievements of arms. Unfortunately, in many cases the heraldry is lost to us as it was painted on to shields adorning the tombs, and has been effaced in that phase of church restoration that insisted everything should be monochrome.

  The 13th century tomb of William Longspee in Salisbury Cathedral has six prominently carved heraldic lions on the shield. This example has some significance in the history of heraldry as his grandfather, Geoffrey Plantagenet, was supposedly the first person to be granted a personal coat of arms. So they say. The lions on his tomb in France were made in a more durably colourful medium, but William's have been reduced to monochrome. This dynasty did not have a monopoly on lions however, just on this arrangement.

  The early 14th century brass to Sir Robert de Bures in Acton, Suffolk also features lions on the shield. These are the very stylised heraldic lions whose poses all have fancy French names. Heraldry is basically a bunch of patterns arranged in different combinations. During the course of the 14th century these combinations became more and more complicated.

  This tomb of a 14th century knight in Melton Mowbray church has a nice heraldic lion shield, but as no colour remains on the rest of the effigy it has presumably been repainted. It may even have been reappropriated with the help of said lion for somebody who needed some ancestors. Still, it gives you the idea of how these things could be used.

  Lions were not just heraldic symbols, but represented Christian virtues and were deemed to represent Christ. The rather strange books known as the bestiaries ascribed all manner of characteristics to various animals, all with overlaying connotations of virtue or sin. According to the bestiaries, lion cubs were born dead and were revived on the third day by the male lion breathing in their faces. Anything sound familiar here? For those and many other equally spurious reasons, lions were cool, tough and virtuous, and were found as foot supporters on many effigy tombs, as shown in the previous post. The mid 14th century knightly effigy from Pickering, Yorkshire, above has the emblem of a lion's head on the elbow piece of his armour; a medieval version of the saying "more power to your elbow".

  When the lion fought the dragon it represented Christ fighting the devil, as on this corbel tucked away inside the famous so-called Percy tomb in Beverley Minster, Yorkshire. It is not the only piece of hinted Resurrection symbolism on this tomb, suggesting its possible use as a Easter Sepulchre.

  Above is the Percy tomb in all its glorious complexity.

  As heraldic achievements became more and more complicated, animals appeared in other places, such as on the crest of the helm of a knight, used as a rather uncomfortable pillow in funerary effigial depictions. The late 15th century brass to Nicholas Kniveton in Mugginton church, Derbyshire has an animal that looks like a wolf as the crest. However, the composition recalls the bestiary story about the tiger. When a hunter steals a tiger cub, he can throw the indignant mother tiger off his trail by throwing her a glass ball which acts as a mirror. She peers in the mirror thinking that it is her cub and the hunter makes his getaway. It doesn't look much like a real tiger but it does look like the way the tiger was depicted in the bestiary, mirror and all. Is he telling us that he is as cunning and fierce as a tiger, or that he steals other people's offspring, or what?  He is wearing a Lancastrian collar during a Yorkist reign so I suspect he is telling us something.

  Animals were also deployed as shield supporters in heraldry. This fragmentary arrangement shows the supporters on the funerary achievements over the late 15th century tomb of Sir John de la Pole and wife Elizabeth in Wingfield church, Suffolk.

  This beat up specimen from Halsham, East Yorkshire may represent the head of a wolf, or something else fierce and hairy.

  The crest on the 15th century knight's tomb from Swine in East Yorkshire seems to represent a bird, perhaps an eagle.

From C.A. Stothard 1840 The Monumental Effigies of Great Britain, London
  It isn't just knights who can have fancy pillows. The late 14th century tomb of the wife of Lord Beauchamp in Worcester Cathedral depicts her with her head resting on a swan. I think this is unique.

  The knight's effigy on the brass of Sir Godfrey and Dame Katherine Foljambe in Chesterfield church, Derbyshire is a mid 16th century over the top extravaganza of heraldry, as is the rest of the tomb. His feet are resting on a stag. As this brass uses the convention of placing his feet on a grassy hillock, it makes it look as if he is standing upright and stomping on the stag.

  The animals, heraldic or otherwise, can be part of a play on words of the commemorated person's name, a trick known as a rebus. The early 14th century effigy of Sir John de Bordeston in Amotherby church, Yorkshire carries the emblem of three boars. (Boars, Bordeston, get it?) As heraldry became more complex it became less of a symbolic language and more of a pictorial one.

  The 15th century alabaster effigy of a member of the Redmayne family in Harewood church, Yorkshire has a crest of a horse, which no doubt had a red mane in its glory days.

  Sir Walter Griffith (d.1481) rests his feet on a splendid alabaster gryffon in Burton Agnes church, East Yorkshire. Griffith, gryffon; well it only has to be close.

  This gentleman, lying here serenely in Glastonbury parish church, bore the name of John Cammel (d.1487). Spot the camel.

  The early 14th century tomb of Sir Richard (or Robert) Stapledon in Exeter cathedral has the biggest and most conspicuous animal ever in the form of a horse, sadly mutilated, not supporting his feet but being led by a groom beside the feet of his effigy. Another effigy, perhaps a squire, stands by his head. Sally Badham, in her Seeking Salvation (2015) suggests that this could represent his funerary procession. Or maybe Stapledon, stable ... maybe, or both.

  I only include this picture of a horse as foot supporter for Bishop John Langton in Chichester Cathedral because I never met a horse that could do that.

  Finishing off somewhere near where we started, here is a lion foot supporter. Even as foot supporters go, it's a rather peculiar lion with strangely monstrous feet and it's biting at the sword tip in the way that dragons and demons do. It's a mixture of the noble Christian lion and the nasty bitey beastie. It stands at the feet of King John in Worcester Cathedral. Make of that what you will.

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