Some of the finest and most exquisite medieval wall paintings in Britain
Tuesday, 5 Nov 2013
First posted on Monday, 10 December 2012 at 20:47
I visited Brent Eleigh church today in Suffolk, and saw the wonderful ‘triptych’ of alter wall paintings in the chancel. Uncovered in the nineteen sixties from below the sixteenth century reformers' whitewash, these must rank as some of the finest and most exquisite medieval wall paintings in Britain. This was thirteenth century artistry in the service of God that must have astounded the peasant congregation, especially when one considers that paintings of similar quality must have adorned the walls of the remainder of the church before the protestant reformers whitewashed everything in sight.
Consider too that, whilst these peasants could not read, the skill and sophistication with which they must have appreciated these paintings would have outshone the shallow and often profane interpretations of the most qualified art historian of the modern age. And what did they have before them in this ‘triptych’? Well, essentially the very quintessence of Christianity in three paintings.
‘Reading from left to right’, we have first the incarnation, celebrated by two angels censing a space with thuribles - and the space must have contained an image bracket, most likely for a Madonna and child.
A censing angel
In the centre, St John and the Blessed Virgin flank the crucifix, a typical early rood group, of which so few survived after their proscription by the Anglican reformers of the 1540s. The delicacy with which the limp body of Christ is depicted, and the twisted anguish of the blessed onlookers, have been surpassed by few artists, let alone the other local itinerant church painters of medieval Suffolk.