- Place of origin:
East Anglia, England (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
This carving was once fixed under the wall post of a roof. Such roof carvings are one of the glories of East Anglian churches. Corbels often took the form of angels with musical instruments. This one, without wings, holds a lute or gittern. It is said to have come with two others from St Mary’s Church in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. But it is difficult to imagine where in that church they were located.
Oak corbel from the base of wall posts of a roof, or church roof-carving, in the form of a half-figure of an angel with with curly hair holding a gittern, without wings, wearing an alb with apparelled amice, and supporting a battlemented projection.
Place of Origin
East Anglia, England (made)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 47 cm without tenon, Width: 24 cm, Depth: 21.2 cm
Object history note
Figures purchased for £31 from George Jennings, along with W.21-1911 and W.22-1911.
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.
A very similar musician corbel, in stone (15th century), forms part of the solar fireplace at Sutton Courtenay 'Abbey', Berks., illustrated in Margaret Wood, The English Medieval House (London 1965), plate XVII.E
Historical context note
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. Similar work can still be found in other churches in Suffolk.
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 playing a lute with a gittern, a plucked stringed instrument with a relatively short neck. Angels holding musical instruments were popular medieval subjects. Other corbels in the group include one with an angel playing a harp and another with a lute.
Corbel, or roof carving, oak, in the form of an angel holding a lute or gittern, England (East Anglia), about 1475-1500
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Charles Tracy, English Medieval Furniture and Woodwork (Victoria and Albert Museum, 1998) cat. no. 39
Gothic: Art for England 1400-1547 (Victoria and Albert Museum 09/10/2003-18/01/2004)
Labels and date
Roof carvings like this, which once supported a roof post, are one of the glories of East Anglian churches. Corbels often took the form of angels and this one holds a lute or gittern.
Made in East Anglia
Possibly from St Mary's church, Bury St Edmunds
Cat. 263 
Possibly from St Mary's Church, Bury St Edmunds
Angels; Lutes; Gitterns
Woodwork; Sculpture; Architecture; Religion; Christianity