Monday, 8 September 2008
A defaced medieval reredos - Notgrove, Gloucestershire
The east wall behind the high altar of the tiny little estate church at Notgrove in Gloucestershire is generally covered with a large tapestry, which was made in 1954. If you pull it up, and there is a little pulley to help you, you reveal this: the fascinating remains of a medieval reredos, which has been sadly defaced. The reredos, as you see, is rather asymmetrical in form. There was a central two-dimensional panel set under a canopy and on either side two ogee-headed niches filled with painting, one a little larger than the other. The side niches are not filled with figurative work but seem to form decorative backgrounds, so presumably images were placed in front of them. There seems to be evidence of a ledge set underneath the panels, so presumably three-dimensional figures were placed here. All very interesting.
The iconography of the central panel is a bit of a puzzle. What is it? My feeling is that it was a Nativity scene, the sort which portrayed Our Lady sat up in bed, what they called 'Our Lady in Jesyn' in the Middle Ages, i.e. Our Lady at her lying in.
The whole damaged composition was evidently gloriously painted when it was first made and remnants of the painted decoration remain, including decorative foliage backgrounds. At the top of the right hand niche ths lovely painted and gilded angel emerges from the flaking plaster. Stylistically this helps date the whole thing to the late fourteenth century. According to dear old Professor Pevsner there was once a series of painted panels of the passion of Christ below the niches, but the plaster is too far gone to make them out, which is a dreadful shame.
Notgrove's pretty little broach spire