Richard Marks, Studies in the Art and Imagery of the Middle Ages, 24 x 17cm, 830 pages, 456 illus., £150.00, ISBN 978 1 904597 38 4, Pindar Press
This book brings together a selection of the fruits of almost forty years of research by one of Britain’s most distinguished art historians. The work of Professor Richard Marks is well known to readers of Vidimus, of course. A stalwart of the Corpus Vitrearum in Britain and abroad, with a distinguished career as a museum curator, director and academic, he has written extensively on medieval art. Published in 1993, his Stained Glass in England During the Middle Ages remains the standard general textbook on the subject. Other books include The Medieval Stained Glass of Northamptonshire (1998) and Image and Devotion in Late Medieval England (2004).
31 of Professor Marks’s essays, dating from 1975 to 2012, have been chosen from an impressive output of well over 70 publications (all of which are listed with full references at the back of the book). Primarily concerned with the study of medieval imagery in all its forms, they range in subject across illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, wall paintings, panel paintings, and funerary monuments. Professor Marks has resisted the temptation to revise his texts, apart from supplying minor corrections and improved photography in some cases, but his introduction helpfully provides updated references and new insights for a number of articles.
The essays are arranged under four headings. The opening section leads with historiographical articles and general surveys, including a useful overview of past and future trends in stained-glass scholarship. There follow sections on stained glass, later medieval devotional imagery, and commemorative works. These groupings are, by the author’s own admission, rather loose, with several essays qualifying for inclusion in more than one section. Those pieces that relate to stained glass, for example, transcend the chapter headings and actually account for more than half of the essays in the book. These include articles on cathedral and parish church schemes (e.g., Salisbury, Wells, Snailwell, Potsgrove); important typological and methodological surveys (e.g., of Cistercian glass, Romanesque parish church glazing, the potential and limitations of medieval wills as sources for understanding and reconstructing medieval glazing); studies of craftsmanship and workshop practice (e.g., his chapter for Blair and Ramsay’s 1991 English Medieval Industries); and of iconography in a variety of media (e.g., the Pietà, Henry VI). Particularly rewarding are the reconstructions of major glazing schemes in high-status late medieval buildings, especially when considered as part of an interior rich in many forms of imagery, such as Henry VII’s Chapel at Westminster Abbey and the Beauchamp Chapel, at St Mary’s, Warwick.
Marks has long declared an interest in what he calls the dynamics of patronage, as is evident from some of the earliest of the essays here, including that on the glazing of Fotheringhay Church and College and his exemplary article about the Howard tombs at Thetford and Framlingham. His 1993 book started with a chapter on patrons and donors, rather than makers, on the premise that he (or she) who pays the piper calls the tune and should, therefore, be the starting point from which we work in order to elicit understanding. Patronage studies have become – with access to the full range of documents (antiquarian descriptions of heraldry, wills and churchwardens’ accounts, for example) – increasingly nuanced. The Beauchamp Chapel, although paid for by the Earl of Warwick, was built and glazed by his executors, who had control of the detail of much of the design, with important modifications to aspects of its imagery made by Anne Neville, Beauchamp’s daughter. Such subtleties of commissioning could operate in parish churches too: at Folkestone a testator left money for a new aisle with a window whose imagery was to be chosen by the parishioners.
Closely linked to questions of patronage are those of purpose and meaning. Professor Marks’s exploration of many types of medieval imagery in a variety of contexts enables us to consider with greater clarity the role of a stained-glass window within an interior that might carry a broad register of devotional, commemorative, didactic and decorative subjects. While it might be evidence of a patron’s devotional leanings, window imagery was not usually devotional per se. A principal driver for much late medieval building and art was, of course, commemoration. In this context, an image in stained glass might be intended to elicit a response from the viewer, but one that was an act of remembrance rather than devotion. The distinction is elegantly illustrated in the late-fifteenth-century will of Sir William Horne, which provided for the purchase of a devotional image – a sculpture of St Clement – next to a window that was to contain commemorative images of Horne’s family at prayer.
A patron – or network of patrons – could also influence the output and geographical reach of a workshop. Two essays, written over thirty years apart, explore the evidence for glazing workshops in the Midlands and are worth reading in tandem. The earlier identifies, principally – and plausibly – on stylistic grounds, fifteen buildings with glass produced by a single workshop in the environs of Peterborough and Stamford. Thirty years later, its author is more circumspect about the evidential value of stylistic parallels in his assessment of the evidence for Coventry as a centre of fourteenth-century glass-painting. It is a thoughtful piece, which reviews and challenges our thinking about the identification of workshops and assesses the many factors which must have determined their location and configuration, and the evolution of their particular approaches to design, technique and style.
This wide-ranging collection has an inherent intellectual coherence. I had read many – although not all of these articles, yet found enormous value in reading them together. But the volume is really distinguished by the demonstration of an unmistakable relish for the actual material, studied in its original context, and a historian’s respect for the documents. The type of object may vary – from a pilgrim badge to a wall-painting, a guild register, a rood, a stained-glass panel, an antiquarian drawing, a will, or a churchwarden’s account. It may be found in a major cathedral, a humble parish church, or a local archive; it may not even be extant. Professor Marks nevertheless brings curiosity, rigour and an experienced eye to bear in exploring and revealing its significance.