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Brass rubbing

Brass rubbing

  • Date:

    1479 (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    wax rubbing

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Monumental brasses are commemorative plaques that served as effigies and were most commonly found in churches. The earliest examples come from the thirteenth century but they were popular up until the seventeenth century and then again in the Victorian Gothic Revival. Surviving brasses from the medieval period are limited due to the turbulent history of the Church but they do survive in considerable numbers in the East of England, Germany and Flanders. Made from an alloy of copper and zinc, a material known as latten, they were laid into church floors and walls. Monumental brasses are historically and stylistically significant because they record dress, architecture, armoury, heraldry (coats of arms and insignia) and palaeography (handwriting) in a dated object. In addition they tell the story of memorial and patronage.

The practice of recording brasses through a process of rubbing originates from the Victorian Gothic Revival. An early method of pouring printer’s ink into engraved lines and then placing damp tissue paper over the brass was replaced around the mid-nineteenth century with the more effective technique of using black shoemaker’s wax, known as heel ball. Brass rubbing continued to be a popular hobby into the twentieth century before the process was understood to cause damage to the brasses.

Physical description

Rubbing of brass effigies of Sir Thomas Billyng, chief justice of the common pleas (d.1481, date added), in coif and robes, wife Katherine Gyfford, 1479, and 4 daughters. Decorated with 7 scrolls inscribed with 'Jhū mercy Lady helppe' (Jesus mercy Lady help), and inscription of 3 Latin verses. The lower part of the principal effigies has been mutilated.


1479 (made)

Materials and Techniques

wax rubbing

Marks and inscriptions

Jhū mercy Lady helppe
Jesus mercy Lady help
Inscription on small decorative scrolls


Height: 2095.5 mm, Width: 1200.15 mm

Object history note

Rubbing taken at Wappenham Church, Northamptonshire.

Descriptive line

Rubbing of brass effigies of Sir Thomas Billyng and wife, Katherine Gyfford, and 4 daughters. 1479, Wappenham Church, Northamptonshire.

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

V&A Print Room's Print Catalogue: BRASS RUBBINGS CATALOGUE 1435-1500, London, 1991.
Macklin, Herbert W., The Brasses of England, Wakefield: EP Publishing Ltd, 1975. 362p., ill. ISBN 0715810545.
Stephenson, Mill. A List of Monumental Brasses in the British Isles. London: Headley Brothers, 1926, and supplement, 1956.


Wax; Paper



Subjects depicted

Scrolls; Daughters; Robes; Effigies


Rubbings; Death; Commemoration; Metalwork


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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