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Boss

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    early 15th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved oak

  • Credit Line:

    Given by A. W. Leatham, Esq.

  • Museum number:

    W.34-1924

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, Room 10c, case WW

Bosses are conventionally applied where the ribs of a vault intersect in a roof. Vaulted roofs are a characteristic feature of English medieval churches and great houses. Bosses can be made of stone or wood. They can perform a structural purpose, fastening the ribs, but sometimes they simply add decoration. Close-up their carved ornament may look chunky or even crude, whereas in their original position in the roof they would have been seen from far below. This boss is carved with a winged lion (symbol of St Mark) holding a label in its mouth.

Physical description

Boss from a roof, carved with a winged lion (symbol of St Mark) holding a label in its mouth.

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

early 15th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved oak

Dimensions

Height: 30 cm max, Depth: 15 cm, Width: 30 cm max, Weight: 2.66 kg

Object history note

Purchased by the donor in Salisbury

Descriptive line

Roof boss with a winged lion

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Charles Tracy, English Medieval Furniture and Woodwork (London, 1988), cat. no. 14
Boss, one of two (W.34-1924, W.35-1924) from a roof, carved with a winged ox (symbol of St Luke) holding a label in its mouth
Given By A. W. Leatham, Esq
Oak. Early 15th century
Each: dia. 30.5 cm
Mus. no. W.34-1924
Purchased by the donor in Salisbury.

Charles Tracy, English Medieval Furniture and Woodwork (London, 1988), cat. no. 5
Boss one of five (119-1865, 120-1865, 121-1865, 123-1865, 124-1865) from a roof, carved in high relief with conventional foliage, with a figure of a crouching lioness. (PL 2c, FIG. 3).
Given By H.M. Office of Works. Oak. 1335-40. H. 49.5 cm, Diam. 49.5 cm
Mus. No. 119 -1865
These bosses are from one of the first floor chambers of the extension to the Bishop of Exeter’s palace erected by Bishop Grandisson (1327-69). The new apartments were added to the extreme west end of the existing complex of buildings, substantially the work of Bishop Brewer (1224-44). The conjectural plan by H.M.R. Drury is reproduced in ].F. Chanter, The Bishop’s Palace Exeter, London, 1932.(p. 27). During his episcopate (1292-1307) Bishop Bytton had added some private rooms for his personal use to the west of Brewer’s Great Hall with a lesser hall above. By the early fourteenth century the palace was fully up-to-date in terms of amenities. Bishop Grandisson must, however, have shared his predecessor's aversion to the communal life of the great hall. He annexed the last piece of ground remaining at the west end of the complex to construct a self-contained hall for himself including an inner parlour with south-facing bay windows, and kitchens below on the ground floor, and two spacious chambers above. The addition had a frontage of over twelve metres, and a total depth of eighteen and one third metres. Unlike the rest of the palace it consisted of three storeys. Grandisson’s extension was demolished in the mid-nineteenth century. However, Charles Tucker, the cathedral’s architect, recorded the fact that one of the first floor chambers had been furnished with a floor of decorative tiles and a fine oak roof of ‘ornamental cross beams’ (Charles Tucker, ‘Notes on the bishop's palace, Exeter’, Arch.Jnl, v, 1846, p.224-25.). In particular, he mentions the bosses of this roof, one of which displayed the carving of a mitred bishop, wearing amice and chasuble. Another showed a female in a hood and both were surrounded by foliage. Two adjoining cross beams carried the arms of Grandisson and Montacute on separate shields. Tucker suggested that the bosses were portraits of Bishop Grandisson and his mother, who was of the Montacute family. He mentioned a third boss in the form of a crouching hound (this is presumably the museum’s lioness), and three other bosses of foliage only. He stated that there were traces of red, black and white paint, and gilding remaining on the sculpture. There can be no doubt that the V&A’s carvings are the ones described by Tucker. They accord well enough with the descriptions and the dimensions given.
There is no documented date for the extension to the bishop’s palace. This is not surprising since the fabric rolls for Grandisson’s episcopate are far from complete (Audrey M. Erskine, ‘The Accounts of the Fabric of Exeter Cathedral, 1279-1353', Part II: 1328-53, Devon and Cornwall Record Society, N.S.. Part II: Vol.26, 1983.)
Given the pattern of lacunae in the records it seems likely that the building work was undertaken between 1335-40. If so, the wooden roof would have been designed by the master-mason, Thomas of Witney, in collaboration with the master-carpenter. From an inspection of the cathedral wages lists (Audrey M. Erskine, ‘The Accounts of the Fabric of Exeter Cathedral, 1279-1353', Part I: 1279-1326, Devon and Cornwall Record Society, N.S..Part I: Vol.24, 1981;p.175-211 and Audrey M. Erskine, ‘The Accounts of the Fabric of Exeter Cathedral, 1279-1353', Part II: 1328-53, Devon and Cornwall Record Society, N.S.. Part II: Vol.26, 1983. p.293-310) it does not seem that any of the craftsmen involved in making Bishop Stapledon’s choir furniture or structural woodwork was employed on the roof of his successor’s new palace extension. William of Membiri, the master-carver, was paid off when the work on the throne was completed. Robert of Galmeton remained as the cathedral master-carpenter until 1321.
Nonetheless, the drawing of the heads on the bosses can be compared to that on the bishop’s throne. The angels and the man and woman on the cusp-ends of the great ogee arches of the throne share much in common with the later work. The treatment of the heads with broad and flat foreheads, sharply-cut brows, prominent cheek-bones, flat and widely spread noses, cleanly modelled upper lip and thin wide-spread lips are common to both series. The putative Montacute portrait exhibits a particular way of drawing the edge of the upper eye-lid, by means of a prominent raised band, which is also found on the throne heads. The foliage on the palace bosses is akin to that on the throne. The leaves on the head bosses are of the most common type used on the earlier monument. The boss from the palace with a spiralling stem giving off budded shoots is also characteristic of much of the foliage on the throne. Finally, the tiny head of Stapledon on the tabernacle high up on the northern gable of the bishop’s throne provides an instructive parallel to the image of Grandisson, carved, presumably, some twenty years later.
Of about the same date as the throne are the stone lion roof bosses in the east bay of the nave (FIG.3). Their carving style is very close to the treatment of the lioness from the bishop's palace. Again, however, the possibility of continuity of craftsmanship is ruled out by the fact that Richard Digon, who carved these stone bosses left Exeter to work at Wells Cathedral soon after 1313.

John Alexander & Paul Binski (ed), Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England 1200-1400, (Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1987) Catalogue Entry 591, p464
J F Chanter, The Bishop's Palace, Exeter and its story (London: S.P.C.K, 1932) 225.B.25
C Tucker, 'Notes on the Bishop's Palace, Exeter', Archaeological Journal, V, 1848, pp224-5
For a general survey of English church roof bosses, see C. J. P. Cave, Roof bosses in medieval churches; an aspect of Gothic sculpture. Illus. with telephotos (Cambridge, 1948)

Materials

Oak

Techniques

Carved

Subjects depicted

Winged lion

Categories

Architectural fittings

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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