Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 9, The Dorothy and Michael Hintze Gallery

Architectural pendant

Pendant
ca. 1280-1295 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The techniques used in carving in wood and stone were fundamentally the same. First the sculptor carved the rough shape of the piece, a process known as ‘blocking out’. Then, he would work the surface with knives or chisels and abrasives. The figure was generally held horizontally at a workbench and attached to cylindrical shafts, so the sculptor could turn the piece as he carved. Small-scale pieces were generally carved at a workbench.

The pendant is decorated with maple leaves, studied and carved with great precision. They were originally gilded and set against a contrasting red background. It comes from the Chapter House at York and was part of an extensive decorative scheme that includes the finest naturalistic carvings of the Gothic period in England.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Limestone (Yorkstone), painted and gilded
Brief Description
Architectural pendant, Limestone (Yorkstone), English (York), ca. 1280-95
Physical Description
This pendant is composed of precisely-carved maple leaves, which still retains its original polychromy. It has been broken into three pieces and repaired, and there is a section missing at the top.
Dimensions
  • Height: 15.1cm
  • Of top width: 15.2cm
  • Depth: 12.4cm
  • Weight: 2.24kg
Measured for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries 2006.
Credit line
Given by the Architectural Association
Object history
This pendant once formed part of the decoration of one of the canopies above the stalls running around the walls of the Chapter House at York Minster. It was taken out during restorations in 1845 and retains much of its original colouring, in contrast to the retored sculptures in the Chapter House, which have been largely stripped of their polychromy.

Following removal from the Chapter House the pendant was acquired by the Royal Architectural Museum, Architectural Association, London after 1851 (inv. no. 127); transfered to the Victoria and albert Museum in 1916.



Historical significance: As most of the remaining pendants and small capitals of the canopies in the York Minster Chapter House were either stripped of their surface decoration or re-carved in 1845, this pendant is valuable evidence for the original colour scheme of the sculptures within the Chapter House; it also shows that the decoration of these canopy pendants and capitals matched the colour scheme of the unrestored capitals in the Chapter House vestibule.



Together with the beautifully carved refined foliate decoration at Southwell Minster, the capitals and pendants of the York Chapter House represent the best examples of naturalistic leaf carving of the Gothic period in England. Both at York and Southwell there is an astounding range of leaf types on view, all closely observed from nature and carved with extraordinary attention to detail. Although this naturalistic treatment of decoration was not invented at York or Southwell - it is seen, for instance, half a century earlier at Reims - it nevertheless constitutes one of the finest contributions of the English sculptor.
Historical context
The pendant is composed of precisely carved maple leaves, which still retain extensive remains of original gilding on two layers of white ground. The gilding comprises three layers: the lowest is yellow paint containing lead white and ochre, which is covered by a layer of size with some ochre and lead white added; on top of this is the final layer of gold leaf. The background to the leaves also retains its original polychromy of red (vermillion), again on two layers of white ground: the lower layer is probably calcium sulphate, the upper lead white (analysis carried out by Josephine Darrah). The pendant has been broken into three pieces and repaired, and there is a section missing at the top. It would have been completed on its underside with a small decorated boss; this has been broken off and the bottom planed down (for a complete example see Bassham and Gee 1972, figs.10b and 11a).



This pendant originally formed part of the decoration of one of the canopies above the stalls running around the walls of the Chapter House at York Minster. These were heavily restored by the architect Sydney Smirke in 1845 and the present pendant presumably passed into the collections of the Royal Architectural Museum shortly after its foundation in 1851, in all probability donated by Smirke himself, who is recorded as making other gifts of architectural sculpture to the Museum from his restorations elsewhere. It was certainly in the architectural Museum by 1877, when it was listed in the catalogue of the collection.



The decoration of the chapter House at York has not been dated conclusively, although it was certainly finished by about 1295.Its undoubted intimate relationship with the decoration of the smaller Chapter House at Southwell Minster, of around 1290-1300, gives a probable bracket of 1280-1295.
Subject depicted
Summary
The techniques used in carving in wood and stone were fundamentally the same. First the sculptor carved the rough shape of the piece, a process known as ‘blocking out’. Then, he would work the surface with knives or chisels and abrasives. The figure was generally held horizontally at a workbench and attached to cylindrical shafts, so the sculptor could turn the piece as he carved. Small-scale pieces were generally carved at a workbench.



The pendant is decorated with maple leaves, studied and carved with great precision. They were originally gilded and set against a contrasting red background. It comes from the Chapter House at York and was part of an extensive decorative scheme that includes the finest naturalistic carvings of the Gothic period in England.
Bibliographic References
  • Stone, Lawrence. Sculpture in Britain : the Middle Ages. Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1955, p.151 & p.256 (no.77).
  • Alexander, Jonathan, and Paul Binski (eds.), Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England 1200-1400, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1987.
  • Williamson, Paul; assisted by Peta Evelyn. Northern Gothic sculpture 1200-1450. London : Victoria and Albert Museum, 1988, pp.54 & 55.
  • Heywood, Ben (Ed.), Romanesque stone sculpture from medieval England, Leeds, Henry Moore Institute, 1993
Collection
Accession Number
A.102-1916

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record createdJanuary 7, 2004
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