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Plate 1.61: Winchester Cross
Scholarly Commentary with DZI View for Vetusta Monumenta, Plate 1.61. Commentary by Sean Silver.
Plate: An engraving made by George Vertue (1684-1756) in 1741 after a drawing in possession of William Draper (1709-1759), probably by Augustin Ménageot (c. 1700-1784). A loose copy of the original engraving, executed in 1741, is held in the British Museum (1850,0223.693). Plate 1.61 represents the Winchester City Cross, popularly called the “High,” “Market,” or “Butter” Cross. Arranged around the base are six human figures, composing three pairs. The first two pairs represent some of the barter transactions which give the Cross its modern name and exemplify its ongoing social and commercial functions. The final pair is of tourists or gentleman-architects, who display (without consulting) a plan view of the same monument.
Object: The Winchester Cross is a many-pinnacled monument on a stepped plinth with five octagonal steps. Like many such crosses, its design is based on the influential “Eleanor” crosses (cf. Plate 1.7), though incorporating elements of the later perpendicular style. Possibly designed to support four statues, only one remained at the time of the engraving, representing either St. Laurence or St. Amphibalus (a local martyr), though it was said to be St. John the Evangelist (Milner 1802, 38-39; Milner 1809, 2.182-84).
The origins of the Winchester City Cross are not known with certainty, but modern sources assign it to the reign of Henry VI. John Britton suspected that it replaced a much older cross belonging to the Church of St. Laurence (1828, 42-44). The best early authority on the Cross, John Milner, argued that the new cross was a gift to the Corporation of Winchester from Cardinal Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester (c. 1375-1447).
The city has transformed around the Cross which once stood before a church; today, the Cross anchors a jog in the Winchester high street. It narrowly avoided relocation in 1770. Thomas Dummer, MP for Yarmouth, purchased the Cross and intended to take it to his estate at Cranbury Park. Repelled by townsfolk, Dummer settled for the transept of Netley Abbey and a lath and plaster facsimile of the Market Cross, which collapsed sixty years after its construction (Yonge 1898, 83-91; Milner 1838, 49).
The Cross underwent a major restoration in 1865 at the hands of Victorian Gothic Revivalist George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), who added statuary, bringing the total number to 12 figures (“Winchester City Cross” 1866).
WINCHESTER CROSS. Erected in the Reign of K. Edward the III. within the Market-place in the middle of the City; its height is 50 Feet, & was formerly ornamented with four Statues, only one of which now remains, as is here represented. 1741. / Sumptibus Soc: Antiquar. Lond.
Commentary by Sean Silver: George Vertue’s engraving of the Winchester Cross was made from a drawing in the possession of William Draper, a London-based antiquary whose name appears on the 1751 Royal Charter of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) (see Draper 1718; Draper 1759). Like many early members of the SAL, Draper left little mark on history aside from his commitment to a general, convivial historiographic practice. Draper was the grandson (from his mother’s side) of the diarist and virtuoso John Evelyn (1620-1706) who records a visit to the newly-built Addiscombe Place, the tottering neo-classical villa built by Draper’s father (Evelyn 1901, 2.320, 2.333, 2.350, 2.362). Evelyn would not have met his antiquarian grandson—Draper was born three years after Evelyn’s death—but two surviving letters from the summer of 1744 make the younger Draper’s commitment to a latitudinarian antiquarianism clear by decrying the divisions in antiquarian societies caused by religion, politics, and gender. They also exemplify his thoughtful approach to historical and historiographic practice (Honeybone and Honeybone 2010, 226).
In 1741, Draper served as patron and protector to Augustin Ménageot, a Paris-born artist who had arrived in England earlier that year. It was in the same year that Draper advised Ménageot to pursue an itinerary compassing the region south of London, capturing the environs and chief monuments of the region (Willk-Brocard 1998, 144). Surviving drawings include views of Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight, the entrance to Carisbrooke Castle, and Chichester Cross (Plate 1.64). It appears likely that Ménageot drew the sketch of Winchester Cross, which made its way into Draper’s possession and then to the SAL; Vertue engraved the print of Winchester Cross near the end of 1741. Ménageot probably sketched the Cross as a notable monument on his way to Portsmouth; J. M . W. Turner would later sketch it evidently for the same reason (see below). But precisely why Ménageot passed the sketch along, and why Draper and Vertue believed it to be worthy of engraving, is less clear.
We may, however, say a few things with certainty: Ménageot’s drawing and Vertue’s engraving compactly capture a trend in eighteenth-century monumental engravings. Isolating the cross against a placeless background, and redundantly displaying a plan view in the hands of the two gentlemen-tourists in the lower right-hand corner, the engraving is an object of a special sort. It is a good example of early efforts to publish monuments for their designs. Such engravings were meant to extract monuments as ideas or sets of relationships, stilling them down into rigorous, two-dimensional views. This had the advantage of making monuments, scattered around England, portable and reproducible, at once possible to translate across media (from sketch-books to engravings to print and even discourse) even while remaining fundamentally unchanged. It was the design, the idea of the monument, that could be printed, as though each monument merely tokened an architectural style or, perhaps, a historical event. This is what Lucy Peltz calls the “uninterrupted focus” of these engravings, “crucial to the antiquarian desire for authoritive [sic] empirical information” (1999, 480).
In this sense, it seems important that the gentlemen surveyors in the print, just outside the lowest plinth, display a plan view of the monument, without consulting it. They are not builders; they are not consulting a blueprint in order to build something; they do not even regard the people gathered there. They frame the cross as a pure set of architectural relationships, the kind of thing that can be discussed as a moment in historical style, or compared with the market crosses of other cities, or filed away in a book for later delectation. Perhaps they witness it as an object of aesthetic appreciation; perhaps they collect it as an icon of an emerging pre-national identity, a mechanism of virtual witnessing which we might associate with near-contemporary place-poetry like John Dyer’s “Grongar Hill.” Once transferred to paper, the Cross has become mobile and, in a sense, generic.
We might imagine these two gentlemen as architectural tourists, whose mobility stands in for the mobility of the print, as Ménageot and Vertue, coming here to cart the Cross off, in representation, to the SAL. But if this was the purpose of this engraving, their effort was largely wasted. Neither the engraving nor the Cross assumed an important place in antiquarian discourse. Although it would later be appreciated for its “exquisite symmetry of...proportion” and ranked among “the most elegant structures of the same description in England,” the Winchester Cross (composed of four levels: a base, a lower tier of four piers arranged around a central column, a middle tier in which the four piers define open bays for statuary, and an upper pillar which has sometimes supported a fanciful crown or cathedral and cross) was never discussed much among antiquarians in London—not even compared with other objects in Winchester (Britton 1828, 44). Especially in the eighteenth century, this honor went to the Hospital of St Cross, situated roughly one mile South of the High Street, and certain transepts in the massy Winchester Cathedral, just a short walk away.
These buildings were subjects of a hotly debated distinction between the older Saxon and newer Gothic styles of architecture, pivoting on the evolution of the pointed arch (Sweet 2004, 249-59). An object like Winchester’s Market Cross, having the advantage neither of signaling a historical style nor of referring to a clear historical event, never figured as part of these early intellectual agendas. Just so, poet-laureate Thomas Warton’s travel guide for antiquarian tourists omits the market cross as an object of interest (Warton 1760). So, too, the tour guide published in installments in the 1750 volume of the Universal Magazine, which simply overlooks the Market Cross in its enumeration of Winchester’s attractions; the plate attached to the guide likewise fails to represent it (“Account” 1750).
Accounts penned by long-time residents of Winchester tell, however, a different story. An anonymous Description of Winchester, likely composed by Richard Wavell, lavishes three full pages on the Market Cross ([Wavell] 1773, 225-27). A rough plate illustrates the account. Wavell was Rector of St. Maurice’s Church in Winchester from 1741-79; his experience of local antiquities situates the Cross as a living element of civic life. So, too, John Milner’s querulous Civil and Ecclesiastical History of Winchester (1838), which represents the first attempt to construct a holistic history of monumental styles in that region, celebrates the Cross in some detail. Milner’s lament of the destruction of Medieval remnants like the Cross was part of a sustained celebration of local antiquities; these signaled, by his calculus, as signs and living resources for forms of life which predated modern urbanization and the taste for novelty. Milner picks out an episode of 1770 in which the Cross was almost removed to make way for a widened cobblestone street. This was, Milner insists, vigorously opposed by the local residents, thereby marking (he argues) “the superior taste and spirit of the lower order of inhabitants,” but also signaling the ongoing importance of the Cross as a center and pivot of urban life (Milner 1838, 49).
Why this difference? In part, it has to do with the function of the cross, rather than the style or historical moment it tokens. The Winchester Cross is generally counted among the so-called butter crosses: landmark monuments in village centers that signal the center of a market. The Eleanor Crosses (cf. Plate 1.7) had always pointed beyond themselves as remnants of remarkable events in English political history. These remember a striking act of love or political show by King Edward; they signify a political stitching-together of a national and political region. The butter crosses remain insistently local, not only centering varieties of commercial life but also enabling varieties of exchange as the make-do stalls of vendors of small wares.
Historical commentators have tended to accept the popular etymology of the term, “butter cross,” from its association with market goods on Sundays—particularly with the dairy products laid out among other agricultural goods on its plinth-like base; and while this etymology has seemed unlikely to some, it has nevertheless gathered currency by analogy with the several market crosses in Salisbury, the “poultry” and “cheese” crosses which center those markets, respectively, and has surely been current in the mouths and minds of many who have witnessed the butter-cross as a place to buy or sell seasonal wares. The Winchester Cross, like the Chichester Cross represented on Plate 1.64 and others of the sort, has served by its very mass and recognizability as the pivot of early urban life: centering the lowly commercial functions of the city. Though it probably began as a sign of a nearby church, the city has changed around it. The Cross’s very inertia, not so much as a figurative icon but as a landmark made recognizable by its mass and difference, has demanded and maintained an open, public space. In short, the Cross does not signal outside itself; rather, it organizes and orients a repetitive, homely relationship to space that is incipiently place-based and centripetal.
So, too, the evolution of representations of the city Cross capture this place-based aesthetic, especially with the reimagination of the Gothic as a latent element of everyday being. This is the Gothic understood as a historiographic presence, which can possibly erupt like the Gothic artifacts of Horace Walpole’s (1717-1797) The Castle of Otranto (1764) but is more likely to structure urban, quotidian life. This is the sense of the Gothic meant by William Blackstone, who insists that modern English institutions are like an “old Gothic castle”: inheritances which are made to make do in the present (Blackstone 1765-69, 3.268 ). So the tourist-architects in the engraving tell one story—about the idea of the Cross, or its design–but the figures in the stepped base, which are generally remarked as existing only to indicate scale, capture something entirely different. The half-realized figures in the foreground, possibly bartering over an onion—or the couple partially-obscured by the dais, one of whom peels a potato while the other perhaps attempts to impress her—play out the minor dramas of a local market.
These little scenes are, in a literal sense, sustained by the presence of the cross, and, in an extended sense, are made possible by the spaces it carves out. It is not only that the steps are wide enough to hold a wicker basket, nor that the human form may sit, somewhat uneasily, on the low first course to perform a repetitive task like peeling. It is also that the cross itself, by its sheer mass and immovability, defines a space around it. In contrast to its stolid monumentality, then, these homely figures qualify the modes of life that monumental architecture makes possible. It seems therefore appropriate that the carved figure of St. Laurence or St. Amphibalus, with his unwieldy palm branch and book, attuned only to the grand eschatology of the Christian end-times, gazes mutely past the little dramas which repeatedly play out beneath his feet. He figures a contrast between the eschatology of divine, monumental time, and the structured repetitions, the discordia concors or patterned mutability of the span of a life or of the seasons. Neither the designer of the Cross, nor the message it ostensibly relays, nor even the antiquary who visits it, would be able to predict the many and manifold purposes to which it has been put in the daily, changing rounds of Winchester city traffic (see also Britton 1828, 43-44).
In this sense, Vertue’s little figures, so forgettable as to be almost gratuitous, look forward to a major change in artistic sensibilities. Vertue completed the engraving of the Winchester Cross in 1741; just a half-century later in 1795, J. M. W. Turner produced a series of studies of the same subject, which would turn out to highlight the incipient qualities of urban contact gathered up in the earlier sketch. Turner, then just 20 years old, sketched the Cross under a commission by William Alexander, an artist, curator, and FSA a half-generation Turner’s senior (Finsberg 1911-12, 88). His sketch-book (the so-called Isle of Wight sketchbook now at the Tate, the first sketchbook of Turner’s young career) almost repeats Ménageot’s itinerary. The Cross is the third item in his sketchbook; the pencil drawing appears after similar studies of the Winchester City Mill and of the West Gate, but before the attention Turner lavished on the imposing west front of the Winchester Cathedral and later views compiled en route to the Isle of Wight. Taken together, these early sketches offer a sort of series of still pictures from Turner’s progress, the very first accidental representation of motion in stillness (or stillness in motion) from an artist who would come to be celebrated for experiments in these sorts of contrasts.
Similarly, Turner’s study of the Cross and the watercolor produced from it display a monument at the center of a hub of commercial traffic.1 A man with a shovel and barrow lounges in its shadow; a small knot of people gathers on its steps; in the background are a sequence of buildings, one of which announces itself as the site of a grocer fortuitously named “Savage.” These people, from the repairman to the group of people meeting to the savage grocer, experience Gothic architecture as the sort of thing that persists as an active presence in diurnal and annual rhythms. When Turner sat down, roughly five years later, to capture in watercolors the dismantling and refurbishment of the Salisbury Poultry Cross (a piece now in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem), he yet more perfectly relayed the ongoing engagement of everyday life and indeed living craft labor with monuments of ancient antiquity. In such a way the homely market crosses stand between a historical or historiographic interest in Gothic design, and a forward-looking interest in utopian forms of labor, which would finally be explored at length by John Ruskin.
I will close with a final note on one probable historical effect of this engraving, which could not have been predicted by Vertue, Draper, or Ménageot. An effort was made in 1865 to restore the Cross, with the Revivalist architect George Gilbert Scott hired to oversee the work. Scott believed in what he called a “conservative” brand of restoration, elsewhere “radical restoration.” He argued for an “entire rebuilding, if necessary,” which should be effected “conservatively, preserving the precise forms…of the original.” But this attempt to recover and restore to view the original designs of “pointed architecture”—i.e., the Gothic—was in service of a different end; he hoped thereby to recover or to “reawaken” an old style, which implied or condensed a more primitive Christian culture and mode of existence—the qualities of mind and echoes of behavior that Gothic architecture represented (Scott 1850, 29).
Scott’s radical conservation recreated details which were not to be found on the monument as he encountered it. These included a small crown or fanciful cathedral surmounting the central spire—a detail appearing on Vertue’s engraving (and a similar pencil study by Robert Adam, dated 1750, now in the John Soane Museum)—but lost before 1770, after which engravings display a spare column and cross, vanishingly small.2 Scott’s restoration was indebted for this important point to Draper, Vertue, and the SAL. If we view Vertue’s engraving as a blueprint, we have misread it; there appears to be no sense that the engraving would ever be used to reproduce the cross elsewhere, not, that is, as document used in a building process. He intends it instead as an object of discourse, something that can be printed and therefore introduced into a comparative discussion of monuments of antiquity. But Scott depended upon the engraving of the now-missing original, or the tradition it promulgated, as just such a technical drawing. Ménageot, Draper, and Vertue were after something contained in the cross more than the cross itself—the essence or formal symmetry of a style. Scott was after something importantly different, a gateway or echo of a vanished way of life, a series of functions which are only shadowed forth, as if incidentally, in the original engravings. It was in service to the renewed importance of the Cross as a repository of lost ways of being that the antiquaries’ work was put to new use, as a blueprint and portal to a nostalgically misremembered, actively recaptured way of being.
: Turner’s watercolor is now at the Whitworth Art Gallery at the University Manchester (D.84-1892), and an engraving based on that water color was published by J. Powell, 30 July 1800.
: Subsequent engravings which capture the crown may all be traced to Ménageot’s model. John Britton, for instance, notes “a crown, and four small niches with statues in them;” Britton is however well-known to have derived his knowledge from early engravings compiled by the SAL (see Sweet 2004, 239-30). And John Milner, fastidiously trustworthy, similarly relays an engraving of the “City Cross, in its original state,” which displays the fanciful, surtopping crown. His sources are unknown, but seem likely to lean on local evidence, or, perhaps as likely, Vertue’s engraving.
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