Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Tomb canopy fragment - Tomb canopy fragment

Tomb canopy fragment

  • Object:

    Tomb canopy fragment

  • Place of origin:

    England (East Midlands, made)

  • Date:

    1270-1280 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved and painted

  • Credit Line:

    Lent by the Rector, the Parochial Church Council and the Church Wardens of the Parish of Sawley, Derbyshire

  • Museum number:

    LOAN:SAWLEY.2

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10, case WN

This angel was once part of the canopy of a tomb in the parish church of All Saints, Sawley (Derbyshire). The church still retains the probable effigy from this tomb, representing a tonsured cleric, in the North aisle. A tomb of this type did not stand outside. Instead, it would have occupied a prominent position within the church itself. The canopy was not to keep out the elements - it was a an indicator of status and honour.

Carved stone canopied tombs were very much the preserve of the elite, and it is surprising that such a tomb should have survived from a parish church. Indeed, this is the only known thirteenth century example. The assured elegance and quality of the carving is comparable only with the best works of English sculpture of this period. It has been suggested that the Sawley tomb may have been made for Ralph de Chaddesdon. He was a cleric of eminence, acting as Treasurer of Lichfield, Archdeacon of Coventry, and Chancellor of the diocese.

Physical description

Carved in the form of an angel in a spandrel, looking to the left, with its body in profile, and its head in three-quarter view. One wing is spread across the spandrel space, the other protrudes from the angel's back. The angel's right leg is raised, so that the posture appears to be almost a kneeling one. With both hands, the angel swings the chain of a censer, the main body of which is now lost. The angel's hair is carefully rendered with loose curls, and the idealised face is serene and expressionless.

Place of Origin

England (East Midlands, made)

Date

1270-1280 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved and painted

Dimensions

Weight: 80 kg, Height: 49 cm, Width: 56 cm Maximum dimension, Depth: 22 cm

Object history note

This angel was once part of the canopy of a tomb in the parish church of All Saints, Sawley (Derbyshire). The tomb was dismantled in 1838, but was recorded in a drawing made by Godfrey Meynell, a local antiquary, in 1810. The dismantled parts of the tomb remained at Sawley until 1980, when some of the remaining pieces (consisting of three fragmentary angles, a capital with naturalistic foliage, and three sections of roll moulding) were loaned to the V&A. Since then, the lower part of another angel has been uncovered in the churchyard at Sawley. The church still retains the probable effigy from this tomb, representing a tonsured cleric, in the North aisle.

Historical significance: Grand canopied tombs did not just commemorate the wealth and status of important people. Often, the construction of a tomb of this type went along with making provision for masses to be said on behalf of the person commemorated. The tomb would act as a focus for such ceremonies, and as a reminder for others to pray for the soul of the departed. Testators would often try to site such tombs in prominent areas of the church, such as near one of the altars.

The censing angels represented here could be interpreted in various ways. Most literally, they commemorate the incense that was used during the last rites. But such censing angels might also be intended to indicate that the dead person was to be received into heaven.

Historical context note

Carved stone canopied tombs of this type were very much the preserve of the elite, and it is surprising that such a tomb should have survived from a parish church. Indeed, this is the only known thirteenth century example. Also surprising is the assured elegance and quality of the carving, which is comparable only with the best works of English sculpture of this period. As Williamson has noted, "the Sawley angels are not provincial works, and it would be surprising if those responsible for them had not been connected with a major cathedral mason's yard". The closest stylistic comparisons are to the famous angels of the choir at Lincoln Cathedral (a project begun in 1256, but only consecrated in 1280).

It has been suggested by Sekules that the Sawley tomb may have been made for Ralph de Chaddesdon, prebendary of Sawley from 1259. He was a cleric of eminence, acting as Treasurer of Lichfield, Archdeacon of Coventry, and Chancellor of the diocese. His last documented activity is in 1275, which fits with the stylistic dating of the tomb, and there is no mention of his having been buried at Lichfield Cathedral.

A tomb of this type did not stand outside. Instead, it would have occupied a prominent position within the church itself. The canopy was not to keep out the elements - it was a an indicator of status and honour. The original brightly coloured surface of the sculpture would only have made it more conspicuous.

Descriptive line

Fragment of a tomb canopy showing a censing angel, Dolomite limestone, Lincoln, about 1270-1280

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

P. Williamson, Northern Gothic Sculpture 1200-1450, London, 1988, pp. 42-47, cat. no. 6
V. Sekules, 'A lost tomb from Sawley', in The Vanishing Past: studies of medieval art, liturgy and metrology presented to Christopher Hohler, Oxford, 1981, pp. 173-177.
Alexander, Jonathan, and Paul Binski (eds.), Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England 1200-1400, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1987.

Materials

Dolomite limestone

Techniques

Carving; Painting

Subjects depicted

Angel; Censers

Categories

Sculpture

Collection

Sculpture Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.