- Place of origin:
Suffolk, England (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
British Galleries, room 58b, case 1
Corbels (or brackets) acted as supports. Often they would be fixed high up on the wall of a medieval church, so as to take the weight of an arch or vault rib. Because of their lofty position, they frequently took the form of carved angels.
This corbel forms part of a set, said to have come from the parish church of Great St Mary's, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. This highly important church in East Anglia was enlarged between about 1420 and 1480 and provided with a lavishly carved interior, which influenced other churches in the region. The V&A acquired these corbels from a collector, who had purchased them in Ipswich.
The angel is represented holding a harp. Angels holding musical instruments were popular medieval subjects. Other corbels in the group include one with an angel playing a lute and another with a gittern, a plucked stringed instrument with a relatively short neck.
Oak corbel from the base of a wall post of a roof, or church roof-carving, in the form of a half-figure of an angel with with curly hair holding a harp, without wings, wearing a cape with ring-shaped collar, the lower garment and the sleeves carved with feather-like ornament, and supporting a battlemented projection.
Place of Origin
Suffolk, England (made)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 61 cm, Width: 21.6 cm, Depth: 22.9 cm back to top of head
Object history note
Figures purchased for £31 from George Jennings, along with W.22-1911 and W.23-1911.
Commentary from Tracy
These corbels are said to have come from St Mary, Bury St Edmund’s although it is difficult to imagine from where. They do, perhaps, remind us somewhat of the stone corbel-busts in the south aisle, which are similarly topped by a crenellated parapet. But there is nowhere for them on the magnificent timber roof of the nave which appears to have survived mainly intact. The positioning of a large tenon directly above the figures is rather puzzling since angel-figures on medieval church roofs were nearly always cantilevered out from the wall. On hammer-beam roofs it was common practice to incorporate, on the wall posts, an inhabited canopied niche below the springing of the brace. An angel with outstretched wings would be positioned below this or at an angle of thirty degrees to the wall. Also on hammer-beam roofs the angels could be placed at the same angle on the innermost extensions of the beams. They are also found fixed to the collars of the roof, but, again, at an angle to the perpendicular. The arrangement in the V&A’s specimens allows for the figures to project at an angle to the wall but restricts their function to that of ‘corbels’.
The museum’s angels, without or with only perfunctory wings, are too small to have been used on the roof of a major space. The use of angle figures in lesser contexts is not particularly common but an instance can be cited at Long Melford, Suffolk, in the south aisle of the Lady Chapel. The corbels here are used in association with a cambered tie-beam roof of modest span. The building of the Lady Chapel can be dated precisely to 1496 (Buidlings of England, Suffolk, 345). Stylistically, however the museum’s angels seem to be closest to those on the hammer-beam roof at March, Cambs of c.1500 (Buildings of England, Cambridgeshire, 437).
Notes from R.P. 1412/M (?) and 130M
17 January 1911 Purchase Form
listed, among 6 objects purchased, as
"a set of 3 gothic corbels in great relief of half length figures of angels playing musical instruments".
Condition listed as "chipped & damaged".
6 January 1911 letter Jennings to Skinner
offers several objects including "three oaken corbels. Gothic ecclesiastic of half length figure of angels playing musical instruments ab. 18 inches high bought at Ipswich abt. 10 years ago." He refers to photographs (not in RP files).
23 January 1911 Bracket Minutes
describe the corbels as "characteristic examples of English architectural carving of the 15th century". The examples offered would fill a gap in the Museum collections.
Labels and date
These two corbels show half-figures of angels playing a lute and a harp. They once supported a roof structure, perhaps at Great St Mary's Church in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, which was enlarged between 1420 and 1480. Similar work can still be found in other churches in Suffolk. [27/03/2003]