St Agatha Holding Pincers and a Breast; St William of Norwich with Three Nails in His Head (panel from a rood screen)
- Place of origin:
ca. 1450-1470 (made)
Segrym, Ralph (commissioned by)
- Materials and Techniques:
Tempera on oak panel
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
British Galleries, Room 58b, case 1
Painted rood screens such as this were an essential part of the structure and decoration of a mediaeval church. The screen separated the priest and the altar from the congregation. It takes its name from the rood (cross) mounted above it. Christ on the cross was usually flanked by figures of the Virgin Mary and St John.
The delicate interlaced framework of carved and gilded wood (known as 'tracery') that once surrounded each of the painted areas is lost. The figures were considerably repainted and perhaps altered in the 19th century. According to legend, the early Christian martyr St Agatha, of whom almost nothing is known, was tortured for her faith, which resulted in her death. The torment most frequently depicted was the amputation of her breasts. She is often represented in pictures carrying them before her. Here she is shown holding one of her breasts in a pair of pincers, the instrument of her martyrdom. The existence of St William of Norwich is more historically certain. As a 12-year-old boy he was murdered in 1144 in a wood outside the city of Norwich. The Church claimed that he had been slaughtered by the Jews and canonised him.
A panel depicting two full-length saints: on the left-hand side, a female saint, in a blue ermine-lined red mantle over a green robe, with pincers in her left hand and holding an amputated breast; on the right-hand side, a male saint in a red mantle over a brown robe, with bare feet, three nails in his head, three nails in his right hand and a hammer in his left hand. The backgrounds of each figure are alternately red and green, the female saint being on red, and are deocrated with pomegrante and flower patterns in gold. Above the male saint is the device and above the female saint the initials of Ralph Segrym, merchant of Norwich, the donor of the panels.
Place of Origin
ca. 1450-1470 (made)
Segrym, Ralph (commissioned by)
Materials and Techniques
Tempera on oak panel
Marks and inscriptions
Marked with the device and initials of the donor Ralph Segrym
Height: 102.2 cm, Width: 79 cm, Depth: 1.5 cm maximum
Object history note
From a rood screen together with another panel in the museum: St Leonard with Crozier and Manacles; St Catherine with Sword and Book (Museum no. 23-1894).
Commissioned by Ralph Segrym (died 1472), a merchant who was Sheriff of Norwich in 1447, MP for Norwich in 1449 and Mayor in 1451
From the Chapel of St Mary in St John's Church, Maddermarket, Norwich.
Painted in Norwich by an unidentified artist
Exhibited at 'The Art of Faith: 3500 Years of Art and Belief in Norfolk' (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery 02/10/2010-23/01/2011).
Historical context note
The rood screen, also referred to as a choir or chancel screen, is a common feature in late medieval parish church architecture. It divides the chancel, the priest and altar, from the congregation in the nave. It is typically an ornate screen, constructed of wood, stone or wrought iron. The word rood derives from the Saxon word rood or rode, meaning “cross”. The screen is so called because it was surmounted by the Rood, a large figure of the crucified Christ. This was usually surrounded by statues of saints, commonly S. Mary and S. John.
During the mid-15th century, the burgeoning class of economically prosperous city merchants appears not to have extended much patronage to painting. However, the building and decoration of churches was a different matter. A great many churches were constructed or added to in this period, such as Long Melford and Lavenham, Suffolk, of which considerable sums of money for the works were provided by secular donors. One notable exception of mercantile patronage to painting, in this period, was the Norfolk rood screens.
Artistic activity during this period, which contains few major works of high quality, centres mainly on two media: stained glass and screen painting. Comparisons in artistic style may be made between these, partly perhaps because 15th century panel painting is found principally in rood screens, which being constructed with elaborate tracery framework, suggest a link with the general concept of window design. Despite slight degrees of stylistic continuity, the painted screens, a great number of which are found in East Anglia, show little connection with the style of local glass.
This panel is painted with two full-length, nimbed figures of saints, in gold and colours. It is among the earliest examples of this form of English painting and one of the very few screens which can be dated.
This panel depicts a female saint, on the left-hand side, in blue ermine-lined red mantle over a green robe, with pincers in her left hand holding what appears to be a breast. This corresponds to a bleeding wound at the figures left breast. These attributes are most commonly associated with Saint Agatha. The object is the pincers had previously been thought to be a tooth, commonly associated with S. Apollonia.
On the right-hand side is a corresponding male saint, in a red mantle over a brown robe, with bare feet, three nails in his head, three nails in his right hand and a hammer in his left, objects attributed to the locally renowned saint S. William of Norwich. The saints face each other with downcast eyes, standing alone apart from the objects in their hands. The backgrounds of each figure are alternately red and green, S. Agatha being on red, and are decorated with pomegranate and flower patterns in gold. Above S. William is the device and above S. Agatha, the initials of Ralph Segrym, merchant of Norwich, the donor of the panels. His initials enable the panel to be dated.
The Maddermarket panels illustrate two characteristics common to artistic production of mid-15th century England; the influence exerted by an increasingly affluent merchant class and the possibility of gaining information about donors of screens, by inscriptions or documents relating to the people who provided them. Other notable examples of known donors are found at East Harling, Shelton and Long Melford.
The donor of the Maddermarket panels, Ralph Segrym, whose initials can be found on each of the panels, became a freeman of Norwich in 1426/7 as a mercer. He served as chamberlain of the city from 1437 to 1439, as Sheriff in 1447, M.P in 1449 and Mayor in 1451. He participated in four other parliamentary elections at Norwich between 1442 and 1453, on the last occasion being described as an alderman. Segrym was a benefactor to Norwich and appears to have shown particular interest in the city’s prisoners, using money allocated by the will of John Wilbeye to charitable works to construct a separate prison for women in the city guildhall. He also financed the creation of a chapel outside the guildhall from his own funds. This may have been to serve prisoners there, for the dedication was to S. Barbara, the patron saint of prisoners, but it could have been used for chantries. Segrym’s interest in the welfare of prisoners may explain the inclusion of S. Leonard, a saint associated with the releasing of prisoners, on the Maddermarket panels. After his death, a memorial brass effigy of Segrym and his wife was placed above their tomb in the church of St John Maddermarket, Norwich.
As indicated by the Maddermarket panels, donors were largely local lay figures, rich landowners or merchants. However, in lesser buildings it was more often quite humble people who provided church furnishings and decoration, acting together in guilds or even paying for just one or two panels of a screen. Piecemeal patronage was the general rule, and although one important figure or family may have provided the initial inspiration and finance for a large project, such as Anne Harling and her first two husbands at East Harling, many different people were involved in the long run, and in smaller churches it would have been unusual to find a unified scheme of decoration.
Panel from a rood screen, entitled: St Agatha Holding Pincers and a Breast; St William of Norwich with Three Nails in His Head, commissioned by Ralph Segrym, from the Chapel of St Mary in St John's Church, Maddermarket, Norwich, painted in Norwich by an unidentified artist ca. 1450 -1470.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Clifford Smith, H., Victoria and Albert Museum, Catalogue of English Furniture and Woodwork, 1929, p. 33, no. 98, pl 3 (full description)
Lasko, P., and Morgan, N. J., Castle Museum Norwich, Medieval Art in East Anglia, Norwich, 1973, no. 74, p. 50
Rickert, M., Painting in Britain. The Middle Ages, 2nd ed., London, 1965, pp. 185-188
Moore, A and Thofner, M. The Art of Faith: 3,500 years of Art and Belief in Norfolk, London, 2009, no.2.8, p.30.
Tracy, C., English Medieval Furniture and Woodwork, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1988, p. 79, col. pl. 5 & 6.
Bale, A., The Jew in the Medieval Book: English Antisemitisms, 1350-1500, Cambridge, 2006 p. 119, n. 74.
Anonymous and undated typed record from Furniture and Woodwork Dept. files, cited in full:
"23 and 24-1894
E.M. Goulburn and H. Symonds, The Ancient Sculptures in the Roof of Norwich Cathedral, London & Norwich, 1876, p. 109, pl. opp. p. 83.
C.E. Keyser, A List of Buildings in Great Britain and Ireland having Mural and other Painted Decorations, 3rd ed., London, 1883, p. 188.
A. Jessop and M.R. James, The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich, Cambridge, 1896, p. lxxxvii, pl. IV.
G.E. Fox, 'Medieval Painting', in V.C.H., Norfolk, II, London, 1906, p. 541.
F.B. Bond and Dom Bede Camm, Roodscreens and Roodlofts, London, 1909. II, p. 417.
W.G. Constable, 'Some East Anglian Rood Screen Paintings', The Connoisseur, 84 (1929), p. 141.
H. Clifford Smith, Victoria and Albert Museum. Department of Woodwork, Catalogue of English Furniture and Woodwork, I - Gothic and Early Tudor, 2nd ed., London, 1929, p. 32, pl. 12.
M.D. Anderson, A Saint at Stake, London, 1964, p. 205.
Margaret Rickert, Painting in Britain: The Middle Ages, 2nd ed., Harmondsworth, 1965, p. 187, pl. 189.
P. Lasko and N.J. Morgan ed., Medieval Art in East Anglia 1300-1520, London, 1974, p. 50 (no. 74), pl. on p. 51.
Several writers, such as Constable and Rickert, assume that these panels are datable to 1451, the year when Segrym was mayor. However, Ralph Segrym did not die until 1472, and his wife Agnes until 1474 (Norwich, D.P.R., 81, 82 Gelour). However, a date in the 1450s or 1460s is suggested by similarities with the main screen at Barton Turf. Decorative motifs such as background patterns and haloes in the two places are comparable, St. Agatha resembles the Barton Turf St. Apollonia, and a slightly harder version of St. William's facial type is provided by the Barton Turf St. Barbara.
I am inclined to identify the second figure as St. Catherine. It may be significant that her turban resembles that worn by St. Catherine at Walpole St. Peter."
Labels and date
In a pre-Reformation church the whole congregation looked towards the rood screen, which separated the priest and altar from the people. The saints shown here both suffered for their faith. St Agatha was tortured and her breasts were cut off with pincers. St William of Norwich was said to have been slaughtered by Jews in the 12th century. [27/03/2003]
Architecture; Halo; Robes; Figures (representations); Suffering; Pincers; Coats of arms; Saints; Nails; Antisemitism; Floral patterns; Martyrs; Blood; Hammers; Faith
Paintings; Woodwork; Religion; Christianity
Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection