Current location: private collection
Project ref.: Royal Saint / 13th Century / Wantage
Material(s): oak, polychrome
Dimensions: 522mm h. x 152mm w. x 102mm d.
Form: sculpture in the round (statuette)
Iconography: royal saint, Edward the Confessor (?)
Period: 13th century (late)
Place of recovery: England, South East, Oxfordshire, Wantage
Probable origin: England, London, Westminster
Probable context: abbey church (?) / altarpiece (?) or reredos (?)
Construction/materials: Carved in the round and fully finished on all sides. Composed of two piece of a single piece of heavy and very dense deep brown coloured oak. The left hand (now clasping a book) originally composed of a separate piece tenoned at the wrist. The source of the timber appears to have been a branch or coppiced pole (oriented vertically for carving), as the full radial cross-section is visible on the underside of the socle. Two former knot-holes on the lower portion of the statue’s right side filled with plugs composed of the same type of timber.
Surface: Extensive remains of apparently original polychrome and mordent gilding: gold and white for the mantle; blue for the tunic; gold, red and green for the crown; brown for the hair; red shoes. fleshtones lost from face and hands.
Condition: Left hand clasping book (originally tenoned at the wrist) replaces. Tip of (?) scepter held in right hand lost. Damage to fleurons of crown.
Provenance: 1900 Paris Exposition Universell, British Section, 4:24; Richard Philp; ‘The Ronald A. Lee Collection’, Sotheby’s, London, 28 November 2001 (L101714), lot 7; ‘Antiques and Collectibles Sale’, Davey & Davey, Poole, lot 413; thence to present owner.
Image credit(s): Don White, 2012.
Description: A slim, youthful-faced and beardless monarch standing frontally with the right knee slightly raised the foot rotated to the side. The left arm (hand now missing is bent at the elbow and held forward. The other rests upon the right hip, with the hand extended and the remains of a rod (sceptre?) delicately clasped between thumb and forefinger. Clad in an ankle-length tunic, which blouses at the waist in a series of running diagonal pleats. A mantle draped asymmetrically on the shoulders and fastened at over the right breast with a circular brooch. Shod in blunted shoes, the figure stands on an irregularly shaped socle.
This elegant little statue of a monarch counts among the highest quality pieces of thirteenth-century English figure sculpture extant. It is also one of the best preserved examples of medieval wood sculpture and provides the clearest link to the finest of London/Westminster Gothic manuscript painting. The statue’s exaggerated, swan-like neck, close-fitting, ankle-length tunic tightly belted at the waist, and mantle draped about the shoulders in a series of plate-like folds and fastened with a round brooch invite immediate comparisons to the ‘Queen Mary Psalter’ of c. 1320. Even the colour scheme (White, gold and azurite blue) and the manner in which the now mostly lost scepter is clasped, delicately between thumb and forefinger, may been seen in that manuscript. Other features – the blunt-tipped shoes and ‘stiff leaf’ fleurons of the crown – belong to the previous century.
The closest comparisons are to be made with the courtly figures of the ‘Douce Apocalypse’ (Bodelian Library, MS Diuce 180) and the now lost Palace murals – the product of artists associated with Westminster Abbey, working in the 1270s and 80s. Shared features include a tunic with unnaturally high and tightly synched waist as the primary garment and a mantel draped with a voluminous v-fold beneath the left arm and cascading into a series of broad , zigzagging folds below. At the right shoulder of the royal saint, as on many of the figures in the Apocalypse, the mantel is arranged into a long and sharp v-shaped pleat. Also, the abdomens of the statue and the figure of the manuscript are rounded, almost feminine, in profile. Further evidence of the statue’s later thirteenth-century date can be found in the distinctive form of stiff leaf that forms the fleurons of the crown: a trefid comprised of pad-like leaves with nodules at their centers, a form which may also be seen on the Exeter cathedral misericords (c. 1270-1290) – a crown of the same design may be seen in the coronation of David miniature of the c. 1230, London-produced, ‘Glazier Psalter’ (Pierpont Morgan Library, Glazier 25, f. 4r). The facial type – classicizing with silted eyes, prominent arching brow ridges, a long, aquiline nose and delicate mouth and chin – is closely matched on the famous mid-twelfth-century sculpted oak image of St Michael from Mosvik (Inderøy, Norway), which is widely thought to be an English import and associated with the Westminster Annunciation group.
In general, this statue is best understood as an English version of the elegant figure style associated with the court of Louis IX, as also seen in the Westminster Retable, and Douce Apocalypse. Some attributes (the subtle contrapposto, as a result of which the left knee projects through the drapery and the delicate and highly expressive facial features) are French inspired. Other (the ‘stiff leaf’ fleurons of the crown, anachronistic blunted shoes, the linear stylization of the drapery folds, and the use of dense, brown oak) point diretcly towards England.
Although the identity of the this statue is difficult to confirm with certainty, the similarity of its posture, gesture and garments to an early fourteenth-century North English tinted drawing of King Edward (British Library, Royal 20 A II f. 5) — along with other contemporaneous depictions – makes the Confessor the most likely candidate.
- Jonathan Alexander and Paul Binski (eds.), Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England, 1200 – 1400, an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1987 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson Ltd., 1984), pp. 32-321, 341-343, 351.
- Aaron Anderson, English Influence in Norwegian and Swedish Figuresculpture in wood, 1220-1270 (Stockhold: Wahlström & Widestrand, 1950), pp. 129-134
- Marion Glasscoe, Mediaeval Woodwork in Exeter Cathedral (Exeter: Exeter Cathedral, 1978)
- C. M. Kauffmann, Biblical Imagery in Medieval England 700-1500 (London: Harvey Miller, 2003), pp. 194-206.
- Marie Louise Sauerberg (ed.), The Westminster Retable History, technique, conservation (Painting and Practice) (London: Harvey Miller, 2010
1. Adoration of the Magi, full page miniature, ‘Queen Mary Psalter’, London, c. 1320 (British Library, Royal 2 B VII f. 112v).
2. Male saints, detail of full page miniature, ‘Queen Mary Psalter’, London, c. 1320 (British Library, Royal 2 B VII f. 307r).
3. The second seal: the red horse, half-page page miniature, ‘Douce Apocalypse’, Westminster, c. 1270 (Bodleian Library, Royal 2 B VII f.14r).
4. The fifth trumpet: the falling star and the locusts coming from the pit, half-page page miniature, ‘Douce Apocolypse’, Westminster,c. 1270 (Bodleian Library, Royal 2 B VII f.28r).
5. Coronation of David full page miniature, psalter, London c. 1225 (Pierpont Morgan Library, G. 25 f.4r).
6. Misericord featuring ‘stiff leaf foliage’, oak, Exeter Cathedral choir stalls, c. 1270-1294.
7. Prophet, silver-gilt, England (found, Hertfordshire), c. 1280 (British Museum, 2000,1101.1).
8. Edward the Confessor, tinted drawing, Peter of Langtoft and others, North of England, c. 1307-1327(British Library, Royal 20 A II f.5r).
Image credit(s): Don White, 2010, 2012; British Library, British Museum; Bodleian Library, Pierpont Morgan Library.