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Monumental brass

Monumental brass

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1480 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Brass, engraving

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mr Arthur G. Binns

  • Museum number:

    M.123-1922

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, Room 10c, case 7

Monumental brasses were an alternative to sculpted effigies and were a relatively inexpensive way of commemorating the dead. This example depicts a woman praying, and is paired with a male figure adopting the same pose, so that it is likely that the brasses commemorate the death of a husband and wife. Brasses like this act as excellent records of changes in dress. Here, the horned head-dress is a distinctive feature of female fashion during the latter part of the fifteenth century in England. Both brasses, with their elongated forms also hint at contemporary notions of ideal body shape.

Physical description

Monumental brass, a flat sheet engraved with the figure of a woman engaged in the act of prayer. The figure is depicted wearing a long, fur-trimmed, full robe with wide sleeves and a distinctive horned headdress. Three fixing holes are visible in the centre of the brass.

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

ca. 1480 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Brass, engraving

Dimensions

Height: 45.7 cm, Width: 15.4 cm, Depth: 0.5 cm, Weight: 1.08 kg

Object history note

Given by Mr Arthur G. Binns

Historical significance: This period marked an increase in the production of monumental brasses, as well as their adoption by a wider section of society rather than being limited to ecclesiastics, knights and nobles. One of the most useful functions of the monumental brass today is as a record of contemporary dress. The most striking feature of this brass is its distinctive headdress. Fashions in female headdresses changed dramatically over the course of the fifteenth century. As a result the type of headdress worn can often be the most accurate way of dating a brass. The horned style of headdress became popular in the fifteenth century, with the style depicted on this monumental brass developing in the latter part of the century. By the 1460s the horns or templers which granted the headdress its dramatic height and shape moved from a wide, almost horizontal position on the wearer's head to a much closer, vertical arrangement. Once the veils were arranged over these horns a heart-shaped headdress resulted.

Historical context note

Monumental brasses developed in the thirteenth century and remained popular until towards the end of the seventeenth century. They were an effective means of commemorating and encouraging prayers for the dead. Unlike life-sized sculpted effigies in full relief, the flatness and smaller scale of monumental brasses ensured that they could be more easily accommodated in parish churches. In most cases monumental brasses were located on the floor of a church, taking up the smallest area possible. The scale of monumental brasses varied from more than life size to just a few inches.

As an extremely durable material, brass was suited for the purpose of inlaid grave monuments which were often located in Church floors. To make a monumental brass the required design would be sketched onto the metal sheet and then engraved using a chisel or burin struck by a mallet. Monumental brasses were laid into indents within prepared stone slabs, often of Purbeck marble from Dorset. Until the end of the sixteenth century, the cast brass sheet was mostly exported from the continent to Britain, where it was shaped and engraved.

Descriptive line

Engraved monumental brass, England, ca.1480

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

Norris, Malcolm Monumental Brasses: the Memorials<>, London 1977
Norris, Malcolm Monumental Brasses: the Craft<>, London 1978

Materials

Brass (alloy)

Techniques

Engraving (incising); Casting; Rolling

Subjects depicted

Death

Categories

Religion; Metalwork; Fashion; Death

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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