Doom painting

UNDOUBTEDLY THE CATHEDRAL in Salisbury (Wiltshire) is the city’s ‘star’ attraction and is worthy of many visits. However, the city has other things that should not be missed. One of these is the Parish Church of St Thomas (and St Edmund), about 370 yards north of the cathedral.

The Doom Painting

The present church was built from the 15th century onwards. Its detailed history can be found on the church’s website (https://stthomassalisbury.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/BriefHistory.pdf). On entering the church from its western end, one cannot avoid seeing the colourful wall painting above the chancel arch. This is the Doom Painting, which depicts The Last Judgement. Images such as these used to be common in Christian Europe but are rare today. ‘Doom’ means ‘judgement’ in Anglo-Saxon. The painting in St Thomas is thought to have been created in about 1470 in the Flemish style by an English painter.

During the Reformation, the painting was covered over with whitewash in 1593. It remained hidden until 1819 when faint traces of colour began to appear when the wall was being cleaned. The painting was carefully uncovered in 1881, and then it was restored. In 1953, the image was cleaned again and retouched. Since then, it has remained untouched. Although it has been restored, it gives a good idea of how this superb fresco looked when it was first created.

While looking up at the Doom Painting, you should also examine the decorated timber ceilings above the nave and other parts of the church. These contain almost 100 wood carvings of angels. Also of interest, is a wooden panel on the wall of the south aisle. This bas-relief wood carving depicts Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac and Jacob’s Dream. It was created in about 1660 by the master Joiner Humphry Beckham (1589-1671).

There are plenty of other interesting items to see in the church, which deserves a visit. Had there not been a famous cathedral in Salisbury, this smaller church would have become one of the place’s main attractions.

Breakfast with Samuel Pepys in Salisbury

THE BOSTON TEA Party in Salisbury’s High Street serves great coffee and tasty breakfast dishes. It is housed in the premises of what used to be The Old George Inn. This hostelry is in a building, whose construction is said to have begun in the 14th century. Most of the older part of the former tavern straddles a pedestrian footway leading from the High Street to a modern shopping mall and its associated multi-storied car park.

The entrance to The Boston Tea Party is via a shop beneath a building that looks newer than the older looking half-timbered edifice straddling the passageway mentioned above. A staircase leads to a dining area above the shop, which is where we enjoyed breakfast one morning in March 2022. This room has a decoratively patterned plaster ceiling and the remains of an old inscription in gothic script. As we were leaving, I saw a notice that advised customers that if the section, where we ate, was closed, customers should proceed up to the ‘Great Hall’. I was intrigued.

The Great Hall is one of the historical marvels of the city of Salisbury.  Its ceiling is supported by beams cut from old ships’ timbers. The Inn has been rebuilt several times. However, the beams that exist today include wood from trees that were felled in the mid-15th   century (www.buildingconservation.com/articles/george/inn_conservation.htm). Some of the walls are covered with wood panelling decorated with carvings and there are at least two elaborately carved wooden fireplace surrounds. Other decorative features include plasterwork covered with intricate bas-relief designs, and a lovely bow window overlooking the High Street. The hall is overlooked by a gallery with a balustrade. There is also a window with stained glass that includes a depiction of a royal coat-of-arms and the name of a king, probably Edward VI, who reigned from 1547 until 1553. According to the historicengland.org.uk website:

“On lst floor the south room has early C17 plaster work friezes on beams and carved wood overmantel. Projecting to east on north side open hall through 2 storeys. C15 hammerbeam roof, arched braces to collars. Heavy scissor bracing visible on 2nd floor lath decorated wall plates and spandrels. 2 rooms with tie beams and kingposts with 4-way struts.”

Over the centuries, The Old George Inn has had many visitors including William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, Samuel Pepys, and Charles Dickens. It is believed that Shakespeare and his players, whilst on their way to Wilton, rehearsed “As You Like It” in the garden of the inn. Samuel Pepys spent one night at the inn but moved to another after having argued with the innkeeper over his bill.

Once upon a time, the Great Hall of the Old George Inn would have been filled with guests enjoying tankards of beer and ale and hearty meals. Today, in its reincarnation as The Boston Tea Party, the place is bustling with customers drinking cappuccinos and chai lattes as the consume trendy delicacies such as poached eggs on smashed avocado and ‘The Vegan Boss’. Whether or not you are thirsty or hungry, a visit to the Great Hall is a ‘must’ before or after you have viewed the cathedral.

Hepworth and Mondrian in Salisbury

IN THE 1930s, both the sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) and the painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) lived in Hampstead (north London). Hepworth and her two successive husbands lived and worked in the Mall Studios near Parkhill Road. Mondrian lived at 60 Parkhill Road. According to one of Hepworth’s biographers, Eleanor Clayton, writing in “Barbara Hepworth. Art and Life”:

“The beginnings of a friendship between Hepworth and Mondrian can be seen in her letters to Nicholson at the time: ‘so glad Mondrian said nice things about me & work. Goodness U did learn a LOT.’”

Visitors to the cloisters of Salisbury Cathedral can see an abstract sculpture at the southeast corner of the grassy space enclosed by them. At first sight, it looks like a sculptural version of a painting that might have been created by Mondrian. It is a sculpture by Barbara Hepworth called “Construction (Crucifixion)”. This bronze artwork was created in 1966, and then donated by the artist to the Cathedral in 1969. It is according to a notice by the sculpture:

“… Hepworth’s response to Christ’s Crucifixion …”

The interpretation of the piece’s symbolism is far from simple, as a website text (https://www.salisbury.anglican.org/news/the-crucifixion) explained:

“What we see are 3 verticals linked by a single horizontal bar, and by 2 other horizontals at different heights.

A large circle, attached to the intersection of the horizontal and vertical lines, is painted citrus yellow on one side and blue on the other. At the bottom of the central vertical, we see red on its own beneath the blue side of the circle, and red and white beneath the yellow. On the yellow side, a metal hoop encircles the point of crossing.

Hepworth wrote that she found it ‘very serene and quiet’, but that doesn’t have to guide what we make of this piece. We could see the yellow circle as the sun, the blue circle as the moon, the red paint as blood, the 2 verticals on either side as the crosses of the 2 men crucified with Jesus.

Or we could contemplate its hardness, weight, size (12ft tall and 2-and-a-half tons) and stark simplicity. We could seek to find meaning here, or we could stand before it and try to imagine the experience of meaningless horror and sheer emptiness which brutality of any kind must impose on those who witness it. For us, it need not seem ‘serene and quiet’ as for Hepworth. On the contrary this cross might confront us with the tragic lack of meaning which has so often afflicted humanity since the cross of Christ was first set up.”

Whatever its symbolism, Hepworth’s piece is attractive and looks good surrounded by the gothic architecture of the cloisters. Above all, its appearance immediately brings to mind thoughts about thw works of art created by Mondrian. One website (https://artistscollectingsociety.org/news/barbara-hepworth-sculpture-returns-salisbury-cathedral-permanent-display/) describes the piece as “Construction (Crucifixion): Homage to Mondrian” and then continued as follows:

“The sculpture is thought to explore the duality of Jesus Christ in its use of geometric symbols and features bold colours borrowed from the palette of ACS member Piet Mondrian, referenced in the artwork title.”

I was very pleased to see this work once again in March 2022, soon after publishing my book about Hampstead, past and present, in which I have included a substantial chapter about the modern artists who lived and worked in the area between the two World Wars. There is a good chance that Hepworth’s encounters with Mondrian and his work whilst they were both in Hampstead is reflected in the appearance of this abstract Crucifix, which stands in the cloisters at Salisbury.

PS My book, “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs” is available from Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92).

A familiar face

THE SCULPTOR ELIZABETH FRINK (1930-1993) was a close friend of my late mother, who was also a sculptor. I do not know how they met at first, but they remained close friends. ‘Liz’ Frink, as I knew her when I was a child, was a regular visitor to our family home in northwest London. After my mother died in 1980, I never saw Liz again. She was born in Suffolk (where one of her pieces stands in the garden of the cathedral of Bury St Edmunds), studied at both Guildford and Chelsea schools of art, and died in Dorset (at Blandford Forum, which is a few miles southwest of Salisbury).

FR 1 BLOG

Walking Madonna

Early in August (2020), we drove from London to Devon via Salisbury. There were two reasons that we chose the less direct route through the city of Salisbury. One was to avoid the motorway system as much as possible and to travel along roads that pass through lovely countryside. The other was to visit Salisbury, especially its cathedral and enclosed environs (the ‘Cathedral Close’). The cathedral, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture built mainly between 1220 and 1320, is worthy of a visit, or as the Michelin “Guides Vert” say in French, ‘vaut le détour’. The splendid architecture was one reason for our latest visit but not the main one. We had come to see an exhibition called “Celebrating 800 Years of Spirit and Endeavour”.

The exhibition consists of 20 works of art, mainly sculptural, displayed within the cathedral and outside it in the Cathedral Close. These works are in addition to the cathedral’s permanent collection of 9 sculptures. My favourites amongst the temporary works were pieces created by: Conrad Shawcross, Danny Lane, Subodh Gupta, Antony Gormley, Tony Cragg, Lynn Chadwick, Daniel Chadwick, and Grayson Perry.

I was intrigued by an electronic sculpture, ‘The Reader’. made in 2015 by an artist named Stanza (born 1962). It depicts a standing man reading a book. The book glows regularly and as it does, LED bulbs in different parts of his body glow for a few moments. The artwork attempts to show, quite successfully, how reading can affect the body and feelings of the reader.

Several of the artworks in the cathedral’s permanent collection particularly impressed me. One of these is a small stone carving by Emily Young, which stands in the cloisters. Also, in the cloisters, there is a large coloured sculpture by Barbara Hepworth, which recalled the works of the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, a good friend of hers. It is called ‘Construction (Crucifixion’). Generally, I am not enthusiastic about her works, but this one, which is so different from most of her other creations, pleased me greatly.

There is another wonderful part of the permanent collection within the nave of the cathedral. This is a large baptismal font by William Pye. Installed in 2008, this huge vessel is filled to the brim with water which flows from it via four spouts. The surface of the water is perfectly smooth and acts as a mirror in which the architecture of the cathedral is reflected beautifully. It is truly a reflective piece in more than one sense of the adjective.

Outside the cathedral, there is a fine stone carving in white marble, ‘Angels Harmony’, by Helaine Blumenfeld. To me, it seemed to depict drapes being blown around in the wind. I liked this, but what really caught my eye was a rather dreary looking cast bronze sculpture, ‘Walking Madonna’. This life-size piece was made in 1981 by ‘our’ former family friend Liz Frink. At first, I glanced at it quickly, and then, for no special reason, I took a closer look. I experienced a strange feeling of ‘déja vu’ when I looked at the Madonna’s face. For a moment, I felt as if I was looking at Liz Frink’s face. As mentioned already, it is over 40 years since I last saw her. Yet, I had the feeling that I recognised her face. I have since learned that Frink often included her long jawline in the faces she sculpted, but it was not that which gave me the fleeting feeling of recognition. Instead, it was the nose and mouth on the depiction of the Madonna that sparked that momentary sensation that I was looking into Frink’s face. I have since compared photographs of the sculptor with those I took of the work on the lawns outside the cathedral. Comparing them, one cannot entirely rule out the possibility that Liz Frink was influenced by her own face when creating the ‘Walking Madonna’.

Whether or not Frink intended her sculpture to include her own face is up to the viewer, but in any case, I can strongly recommend a visit to Salisbury Cathedral before the enjoyable sculpture exhibition is dismantled.