Medieval Wall Paintings
Astonishing Work by a Sixteenth Century Master
High on the north wall of the Sanctuary are the remains of an outstanding piece of sixteenth century artwork. Discover DeCrypt is in the early stages of a project to conserve this exceptional wall painting and uncover some of its secrets.
The painting was revealed in 1842 when architects Daukes and Hamilton undertook a major reordering of the church. The monuments lining the walls of the Sanctuary were removed to expose large areas of painted wall beneath. At the time the colours were still bright.
Unfortunately the process of scraping off the covering limewash also removed much of the original paint from the bottom two thirds of the painting. There has been further deterioration since as remaining paint has flaked off and pigments have faded with exposure to light.
The History of the Painting
Conservation work in 1982 by Katkov and Oldenbourg revealed much information about the painting but also raised new questions.
The painting most likely dates from the 1530s, judging from the costume and style. The Adoration of the Magi was a very popular subject at the time, as it offered the chance to show rich costume and elaborate ornamentation. The painting is unusual, however, in its exceptional quality. The majority of English medieval wall painting, especially of this period, is unsophisticated and inexpensive. It is mostly carried out on lime plaster in earth colours by an artist unaware of the trends in mainstream European art. By contrast, this work is executed in a varied palette of oil colours, including green (verdigris), red (vermilion), yellow (ochre) and blue (indigo) as well as black and white with extensive use of gold. The style and technique are clearly the work of an artist familiar with contemporary developments in Antwerp.
There is no known 16th century English artist whose work can be readily compared to this painting. However, we do know that artists from Antwerp were commissioned to work in London at this time, so it is possible that one also came to Gloucester. If so, it must have been at the request of a wealthy and influential patron. The materials used in this painting are not ideally compatible with stone wall-fabric and were usually considered prohibitively expensive for a painting of this size. The techniques used are most common to the master of the panel painting.
It is probable that the painting was covered with a layer of lime wash within only a few decades of its completion. The accession of Edward VI in 1547 marked a new stage in the English Reformation in which all ‘popish images’ were condemned. The wall was limewashed about a dozen times over the years, mainly in shades of white, but once in bright pink. This early covering in fact protected the paint from fading in daylight and from deposits of grime and dirt.
In 2021 conservator Jane Rutherford undertook a preliminary investigation to assess the current state of the painting. A project is now underway to raise the necessary funds to conserve the painting for future generations. To make a donation please click the button below.
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Having already written about sneak peeks that I’d been fortunate enough to have before the official re-opening this weekend, there was plenty left over to surprise and delight me at the church’s Open Day Event on Saturday March 23rd. Read my latest blog to find out my highlights from the event – Zoe.
It wasn’t a typical office lunchtime when I donned a hard hat, his-vis jacket, and steel capped boots to see the final reconstruction work at The Gloucester DeCrypt project, but