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Plate 2.19: Engraving of a Medieval Seal and Mantelpiece1 2020-01-30T13:57:45+00:00 Crystal B. Lake b7829cc6981c2837dafd356811d9393ab4d81adc 31 3 Plate 2.19 of Vetusta Monumenta depicts the third conventual seal of Canterbury Cathedral (13th century) and a segment of a wooden mantelpiece from a house in Saffron Walden featuring carved images and letters (16th century). The plate itself contains commentary on the objects in cursive script. Engraving by James Green after drawings provided by John Ward. 444 x 303 mm. Published by the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1758. Current locations: Impressions of the seal are located at National Archives, Kew, UK, and the British Library, London, UK; the mantelpiece remains in situ in the house in Saffron Walden, Essex, UK. plain 2022-07-05T18:39:31+00:00 20130213 150323-0600 University of Missouri, c2018 Crystal B. Lake b7829cc6981c2837dafd356811d9393ab4d81adc
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Plate 2.19: Medieval Seal and Mantelpiece
Scholarly Commentary with DZI View for Vetusta Monumenta, Plate 2.19. Commentary by Laura Whatley.
Plate: Plate 2.19 features engravings of two heavily-glossed objects: the third seal of Canterbury Cathedral and a segment of a carved mantelpiece. The two objects are accompanied by very lengthy textual descriptions (complete with references) in an elegant cursive script. The plate itself thus provides commentary on the two depicted objects, offering information on their provenance as well as an attempt to identify and analyze their visual and textual content. The minutes of the Society of Antiquaries of London confirm that Plate 2.19 was based on drawings provided by John Ward (1678/9-1758), and that proofs of the prints were approved by members of the Society on 6 April, 1758.
Both the presentation and contextualization of the works on this plate are unique for Vetusta Monumenta. This could relate to the engraver responsible for producing the plate, James Green (1729–1759). In 1757, Green became the official engraver to the Society of Antiquaries of London, after serving in this role the previous year for the University of Oxford. An Oxford-based draughtsman, painter, and engraver, Green replaced the prolific George Vertue (1684-1756), who produced engravings for the Society and Vetusta Monumenta for nearly forty years until his death. Green was trained by James Basire Sr, FSA (1730–1802), whose workshop would go on to produce all of the engravings for Vetusta Monumenta from 1763 until his death in 1802. Green only served as the official engraver for a brief period; he died shortly after completing Plate 2.19, which he signed in the bottom right corner, in 1759. He did not sign any other plates for Vetusta Monumenta before his untimely death at the age of 30 (Fenn 1784, 20). Interestingly, as Noah Heringman notes, the plates in Vetusta Monumenta would increasingly place more emphasis on text and interpretation, after Richard Gough (1735-1809) became director of Society in 1771. Thus, Plate 2.19 anticipates new approaches to the objects, monuments, and buildings in Vetusta Monumenta, although the research on individual works would be conducted by the Fellows of the Society, not the engravers, who henceforth worked on contract and were considered “practical antiquaries”—that is, menial craftsmen (Heringman, “Vetusta Monumenta: An Introduction”). This print certainly exemplifies a shift in concept and process from the tenures of both Vertue and Green.
Object: Labeled "Fig. I" on the plate is a very detailed representation of the obverse and reverse of the third conventual seal of Canterbury Cathedral, shown side-by-side and linked with a bow. Below, labeled "Fig. II", is a rendering of a carved pediment-shaped beam of a fireplace or hearth mantel from Saffron Walden, Essex.
The Canterbury seal had been in the private collection of Sir Andrew Fountaine (1676–1753), a notable antiquarian, art collector (with interest in portrait miniatures and coins), and amateur architect. The mantelpiece, the inscription tells us, was located over the kitchen chimney of Mrs. Elizabeth Fuller at the time the engraving was created. This suggests that the mantelpiece was original to the home but perhaps was not formerly in the kitchen. The commentary provides a date of 1387 based on the deciphering of “Arabic figures” carved on the beam, but a sixteenth-century date is far more likely (see below).
Above the Seal: Fig.I. / THE THIRD SEAL OF CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL
Legend of the Seal’s Obverse:
SIGILLUM : ECCLESIE : XPISTI : CANTUARIE : PRIME : SEDIS : BRITANNIE :
Inscriptions on the Seal, Obverse:
[ ]VSTX[ ]
Seal Legend, Reverse:
EST : HVIC : VITA : MORI : PRO : QVA : DVM : VIXIT : AMORI :
MORS : ERAT : ET : MEMORI : PER : MORTEM : VIVIT : HONORI
Below the Seal: THIS print was taken from a curious impression of the seal in red wax, formerly in the possession of Sr: Andrew Fountaine, and exhibits both its faces. The front represents a prospect of one side of the church, with three towers; in the center is a folding door; and over that a bust of our Saviour, with the characters IC and XC, for Jesus Christus. Below the bust are vestiges of other letters, but so defaced by time, as to render them not legible. Beneath the door is the word METROPOLIS in plain characters. And round the verge is the following inscription: SIGILLVM ECCLESIE CHRISTI CANTVARIE PRIME SEDIS BRITANNIE. The reverse of the seal is adorned with buildings, as is the front; in the middle is a draught of the assassination of Abp. Becket; and this inscription is placed round the verge in two hexameter verses: EST HVIC VITA MORI PRO QVA DVM VIXIT AMORI MORS ERAT ET MEMORI PER MORTEM VIVIT HONORI. The edge of the seal was also circumscribed with the following verse twice repeated: SIT MICHI CAVSA MERA SALVS IVS INTEGRA CERA. And agreably to this, Mr: Casley has observed, that St. Austin’s church at Canterbury, St. Andrew’s at Rochester, and Trinity church at Norwich, had all their convent seals lettered about the edges; Pref. to the Catal of Mss. In the King’s Library, p.XV. From the above account it appears, that this seal must have been made after the death of Thomas Becket. And Mr: Sommer has shewn it to be the third and last common seal of that cathedral, till the time of K. Henry VIII. See Ant. Of Cant. edit.Battely, p.126. [THIS print was taken from a curious impression of the seal in red wax, formerly in the possession of Sr: Andrew Fountaine, and exhibits both its faces. The front represents a prospect of one side of the church, with three towers; in the center is a folding door; and over that a bust of our Saviour, with the characters IC and XC, for Jesus Christus. Below the bust are vestiges of other letters, but so defaced by time, as to render them not legible. Beneath the door is the word METROPOLIS in plain characters. And round the verge is the following inscription: SIGILLVM ECCLESIE CHRISTI CANTVARIE PRIME SEDIS BRITANNIE. The reverse of the seal is adorned with buildings, as is the front; in the middle is a draught of the assassination of Abp. Becket; and this inscription is placed round the verge in two hexameter verses: EST HVIC VITA MORI PRO QVA DVM VIXIT AMORI MORS ERAT ET MEMORI PER MORTEM VIVIT HONORI. The edge of the seal was also circumscribed with the following verse twice repeated: SIT MICHI CAVSA MERA SALVS IVS INTEGRA CERA. And agreably to this, Mr: Casley has observed, that St. Austin’s church at Canterbury, St. Andrew’s at Rochester, and Trinity church at Norwich, had all their convent seals lettered about the edges; Pref. to the Catal of Mss. In the King’s Library, p.XV. From the above account it appears, that this seal must have been made after the death of Thomas Becket. And Mr: Sommer has shewn it to be the third and last common seal of that cathedral, till the time of K. Henry VIII. See Ant. of Cant. edit.Battely, p.126.]
In the Middle of the Print: Fig.II. / A DRAUGHT OF A MANTLE PEICE AT SAFFRON WALDEN IN ESSEX
On the Mantel:
MYD R(K?) DYL
De archetyp. delin. I.W.
Below the Mantel: THIS antient and curious relique of English workmanship was found in the house of Mrs. Elizabeth Fuller, and is now placed over her kitchen chimney. It consists of a thick & large oaken beam, eight feet six inches in length, and one foot three inches in breadth at the centre, beautifully carved in relief, with the following devices, suited to the taste of those times. The figure of a TON is cut in a scroll between the syllables MYD and DYL, and being read after them makes up the word MYDDYLTON; which not improbably was the name of the person, who possessed the building at that time. And upon the side of the vessel is a single letter, seemingly an R, to denote his christian name. The date of the year also, 1387, in Arabian figures, is placed at two transverse angles of the same letter. It is likewise observable, that all the letters, figures, and bold of the ton, are formed of the twigs of vines, stripped of their leaves. And the extreme parts of the work, at each end of the scroll, are in like manner adorned with vine branches, intermixed with clusters of grapes. The design of this curious & elaborate performance might possibly be to represent the fertility if some vineyard then belonging to that house. For the custom of planting vineyards, and making wine of the grapes, had long before obtained inEngland, as we learn fromWilliam of Malmsbury, De gest.Pontif.Angl. Lib. IV. P.283. And as to the device of the ton, both the Greeks and Roman used on some occasions to represent their names by symbolic figures; in which they have been since followed by other nations. Thus Pliny mentions two Lacedaemonian architects named SAVROS and BATRACHOS, who having built some temples at Rome, carved on the bases of the pillars the figures of a Lizard and Frog (which in the Greek language are called by those names) with a view to perpetuate by that means their own memory, Lib.XXXVI. cap.5. And Vaillant has published two Roman coins, struck by Q.VOCONIVS VITVLVS, one of the monetarii, or masters of the mint, having the head of Julius Caesar on the front; and Q.VOCONIVS on the reverse with the figure of a Calf in the area, and under it VITVLVS, his cognomen, in the exergue: Fam. Rom. in Voconia. But this mixed way of doing it, by a figure joined to some part of the name, seems to have been a later invention. Tho both have been often practised among ourselves, several instances of which may be seen in Camden’s Remains, under the title of Rebus or Name devices. And one of the latter sort, similar to this at Walden, but a century after it, was that of Abp. MORTON; whose name, as a benefactor to the rebuilding of Bellharry steeple at Christ Church in Canterbury, was expressed in the stone work by the syllable MOR, and the figure of a TON: (Somner, ubi supra, page 137.) [THIS antient and curious relique of English workmanship was found in the house of Mrs. Elizabeth Fuller, and is now placed over her kitchen chimney. It consists of a thick & large oaken beam, eight feet six inches in length, and one foot three inches in breadth at the centre, beautifully carved in relief, with the following devices, suited to the taste of those times. The figure of a TON is cut in a scroll between the syllables MYD and DYL, and being read after them makes up the word MYDDYLTON; which not improbably was the name of the person, who possessed the building at that time. And upon the side of the vessel is a single letter, seemingly an R, to denote his christian name. The date of the year also, 1387, in Arabian figures, is placed at two transverse angles of the same letter. It is likewise observable, that all the letters, figures, and bold of the ton, are formed of the twigs of vines, stripped of their leaves. And the extreme parts of the work, at each end of the scroll, are in like manner adorned with vine branches, intermixed with clusters of grapes. The design of this curious & elaborate performance might possibly be to represent the fertility of some vineyard then belonging to that house. For the custom of planting vineyards, and making wine of the grapes, had long before obtained in England, as we learn from William of Malmsbury, De gest.Pontif.Angl. Lib. IV. P.283. And as to the device of the ton, both the Greeks and Roman used on some occasions to represent their names by symbolic figures; in which they have been since followed by other nations. Thus Pliny mentions two Lacedaemonian architects named SAVROS and BATRACHOS, who having built some temples at Rome, carved on the bases of the pillars the figures of a Lizard and Frog (which in the Greek language are called by those names) with a view to perpetuate by that means their own memory, Lib.XXXVI. cap.5. And Vaillant has published two Roman coins, struck by Q.VOCONIVS VITVLVS, one of the monetarii, or masters of the mint, having the head of Julius Caesar on the front; and Q.VOCONIVS on the reverse with the figure of a Calf in the area, and under it VITVLVS, his cognomen, in the exergue: Fam. Rom. in Voconia. But this mixed way of doing it, by a figure joined to some part of the name, seems to have been a later invention. Tho both have been often practised among ourselves, several instances of which may be seen in Camden’s Remains, under the title of Rebus or Name devices. And one of the latter sort, similar to this at Walden, but a century after it, was that of Abp. MORTON; whose name, as a benefactor to the rebuilding of Bellharry steeple at Christ Church in Canterbury, was expressed in the stone work by the syllable MOR, and the figure of a TON: (Somner, ubi supra, page 137.)
At the Bottom of the Print:
Sumpt. Societ. Ant. Lond 1758.
Published according to Act of Parliament, April 13, 1758.
Legend of the Seal’s Obverse:
“Seal of Christ Church Canterbury, First Cathedral of Britain”
Inscriptions on the Seal, Obverse:
Christ (IC / XC monogram)
“The House of Christ the Lord” (EST DOMVS H’ XPI)
“The Walls of the City the Same” (MUVI METROPOL’ .ISTI.)
Seal Legend, Reverse:
“For him, dying is life, for the sake of which, while he lived, death was his love, and through his death he lives on in honored memory.” (after Maschke 2013, 175)
On the Mantel: “
R(or K) Myddylton”
From a drawing taken by J[ohn] W[ard]
Commentary by Laura Whatley:
The Third Seal of Canterbury Cathedral
The first item engraved at the top of Plate 2.19 is the common seal of the priory and cathedral of Christ Church Canterbury. It is a double-sided seal featuring some thirty figures (both full-length and bust) contained in architectural frames and including rather verbose legends. The twelve lines of text appearing below the seal states that it was drawn from a “curious impression of the seal in red wax,” although it is unclear what about the impression was curious to the antiquaries. The most interesting aspect of this statement is the emphasis it places on observation. The text on the plate correctly identifies the seal as the third common seal of the cathedral priory, and both the engraving of the seal and the fact that the impression was in red wax (Canterbury seems to have prefer the use of red wax, and even a great number of episcopal seals from Canterbury Cathedral were impressed in red wax) correspond to extant examples of the seal—most notably, a fine attached impression in TNA dated 1534 (E 25/25; Ellis 1986, M166). Impressions of this seal survive in a relatively large quantity, many still attached to documents. The seal was likely well-known in the thirteenth century and inspired other ecclesiastical seals in scale and complexity, including the common seal of Ely Cathedral (c. 1280) engraved on Plate 1.5. TNA alone has five additional impressions of this seal dating from as early as 1233 up to the middle of the sixteenth century (SC 13/A162, E 30/1400, E 33/2, E 211/68, and E 329/401). There also is a very fine impression in red wax attached to a charter in the British Library dated 1418 (London, BL Cotton Ch. xxi. II.; Birch 1887, no. 1373) with three additional broken or fragmentary attached specimens in the British Library, all in red wax, dated 1278, 1452, and 1528 (see Birch 1887, nos. 1374, 1375, and 1376).
Canterbury was an ancient foundation. According to Bede, it was founded by St. Augustine in the late sixth century and dedicated to Christ. Surprising little is known about Canterbury before the Conquest, but it is clear that William the Conqueror was generous to the foundation, confirming liberties and restoring lands (Page 1926, 113-21). The common seals of Canterbury Cathedral had always featured architecture—a strong, pictorial references to place. Indeed, the first common seal, produced as early as 1096, contained simply an image of a church edifice with a large central tower or lantern. T.A. Heslop has noted that the building should be taken as a fairly accurate representation of the pre-Conquest, Anglo-Saxon church, as the representation generally corresponds to Eadmer’s description (Heslop 1982, 96-97).
An impression of this very early seal survives on a charter dated 1096–1107, and the latest surviving impression from this matrix is attached to a document dated March 28, 1155 (Cathedral Archives, Canterbury C.885 and W.50a). There also is a nicely preserved example of this seal in the British Library dated 1152 (Birch 1887, no. 1368). This matrix was replaced around 1155 (perhaps destroyed) with a seal representing a more intricate ecclesiastical structure with numerous towers, windows and niches, and containing human figures. This seal first appears on a charter dated July 1158 in the British Library (Add. Ch. 67,123). This seal is much larger than the first seal of Canterbury Cathedral and includes a pointed oval counterseal representing Christ seated on a rainbow giving a blessing with his right hand and holding the Book in his left (e.g., Birch 1887, no. 1369).
Although not an exact representation of the cathedral, the architecture on the second seal does a better job of reflecting the Norman rebuilding of the church in the 1070s under Archbishop Lanfranc (1070–1089). In the central niche is an image of Christ, kneeling and gesturing towards the wound on his side. Set within two towers of the architectural setting are portrait busts, one in profile and one frontal. Notably, these two figures are representatives of Canterbury’s glorious and saintly Anglo-Saxon past: one is certainly St. Dunstan, Canterbury’s prolific archbishop between 960–978, and the other Archbishop Elphege, who was martyred during Viking raids in 1012 and canonized in 1078. The relics of St. Dunstan were buried in a privileged location near Canterbury’s high altar in 1078, and St. Elphege’s shrine, also near the high altar, was rebuilt in expanded form under Archbishop Anselm (1093–1109) around 1109. The seal thus commemorates not only Christ as patron of Canterbury Cathedral but also the sanctity and eternal presence of two of Canterbury’s early leaders.
Designed in the thirteenth century, the third common seal of Christ Church Canterbury reflects the cathedral-priory’s unique nexus of corporate identity, sacred relics, and institutional power. It combines a complex micro-architectural setting and a sacred narrative, hagiographic in nature. Around the year 1232, the monks of Canterbury decided to replace their mid-twelfth century common seal with a new seal (“in opera novi sigillum”). They selected a new matrix that better reflected the change in the priory’s sacred status after the martyrdom of Thomas Becket in 1170. This new matrix was actually comprised of four different matrices plus a band matrix and, due to its large size (94 mm, only a few millimeters smaller than King Henry III’s Great Seal) and the quantity of metal required to produce each matrix, it cost a staggering £7 6s. 8d.
Heslop suggested that this expenditure for the new conventual seal also could have included the cost of a seal press, which would have been a necessary piece of equipment for creating enough pressure to create such an elaborate and detailed double-sided impression in wax using four different matrices (see Heslop 1982, 95–96). Such a seal press survives today in the Canterbury Cathedral Archives dated c. 1232, roughly the same date as the production of the third conventual seal. Each face of the seal would bear two separate impressions created by two different matrices, requiring two cakes of wax that would be fused together after being impressed with the images and legends. “The principle,” as Heslop outlines, “is that two cakes of wax are impressed on both sides, on one side with the architectural design and the surface figures, on the other side with the heads and figures which will appear recessed. A band matrix is then impressed around the perimeter, presumably to help conceal the join between the two layers” (Heslop 1982, 95; see also Späth 2015, 165 and fig. 12.5). This was a sophisticated and complex process for sealing, one that would certainly be difficult to recreate to produce forged Canterbury documents.
The third common seal’s pictorial program and legends reflect an accumulation of memory and sanctity at the cathedral priory over time. Both obverse and reverse are dominated by an image of a church, Canterbury Cathedral, although offering two very different views of the edifice. In both images, however, the church has a large central tower. The obverse, like the second common seal, depicts Christ as patron, this time in a gable above the closed portal offering the viewer a blessing, as well as mitered busts of Saints Dunstan and Elphege on either side of the portal with tiny identifying inscriptions: S’ DVNSTAN’ and S’ ELPHEGVS. Plate 2.19 does not record these identifying labels, perhaps due to spatial constraints or a lack of clarity on the impression itself. Green’s engraving also omits St. Elphege’s mitre. Above the busts of Dunstan and Elphege are two additional ensconced busts, unfortunately without labels on the original impression. In the fields between the cathedral’s towers, emerging from the clouds of Heaven, are two censing angels. Like Vertue, Green updated the physiognomic features and hairstyles of the figures to conform to eighteenth-century tastes; even Christ is portrayed with a classical face, shock of curly hair, and tidy beard. In contrast to the figures, the architecture—such as the linework detail to suggest different roofing materials and masonry—was closely copied from the seal impression to the engraved plate. The legend and inscriptions on the obverse identify the church and situate both the church and the city of Canterbury under the authority and patronage of Christ.
The seal’s reverse depicts, in multiple architectural compartments and niches, the martyrdom of Thomas Becket inside Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. The depiction of Becket’s murder already had appeared on seals of archbishops of Canterbury, first on the counterseal of Hubert Walter (1193–1205). This small oval seal shows Becket kneeling in prayer, with two armed men bearings swords standing before him and a third man (the eyewitness Edward Grim) standing behind holding a cross (for the development of this iconography, see Slocum 2012, 63–64). On Canterbury’s third seal, the narrative has been fleshed out across multiple architectural compartments. Knights are represented entering through the left portal of the cathedral (the rear guard). In the stage-like central space of the structure, Becket is shown kneeling with his head bowed and hands clasped in prayer in anticipation of the deathblow. Two armed nights in chainmail stand before him on the left, one of the knight’s swords already making contact with Becket’s head. Edward Grim stands behind Becket with a raised cross in hand. On the right, a group of monks or clergy (three are represented in the engraving) appear in dialogue with raised hands. Above the assassination scene, two angles carry Becket’s soul supported in a cloth to the image of Christ holding out the crown of martyrdom in the recessed trefoil above. Additional angels populate the upper-tiers of the two flanking towers (as observers to the murder and ascension) and the fields to either side of the large central tower (bearing crowns).
The central axis of the church structure therefore emphasizes both Becket’s death as well as his immediate ascension into Heaven, although still framed within Canterbury’s architecture. As Markus Späth has suggested, the corporate identity of Christ Church Canterbury was being directly linked to the church’s status as both a container for key saint’s relics from the Anglo-Saxon past and the very recent setting for the martyrdom of Thomas Becket (Späth 2015, 166). This is supported by the reverse’s epigrammatic legend, which refers to the martyrdom and memory of Becket in poetic form (Maschke 2013, 175). Taken together, the two sides of this conventual seal reflect the many layers of Canterbury’s sacred status and identity from its foundation to its more current history. The only thing surprising about the engraving of the third seal of Canterbury on Plate 2.19 is that it hadn’t been engraved earlier in the history of Vetusta Monumenta.
Draught of a Mantle Piece at Saffron Walden in Essex
The second item engraved on Plate 2.19 is an oak beam of a mantelpiece from a house in Saffron Walden that features carved images and letters. The mantelpiece is likely still in situ; in 1951, it was recorded as being in Myddylton House, a Grade II Listed Building now searchable on historicengland.org.uk (entry number 1025102). The text on Plate 2.19 presents detailed information about the content of the relief carvings that articulate and decorate the mantel. Comparing the engraved image of the mantel to an extant historical photograph reveals the general accuracy of the engraving, although the photograph was taken in the early nineteenth century, and it is difficult to discern the finer details of the relief carving (“Saffron Waldon” 1916, fig.1, Plate 11). The mantel is in the form of a pediment with a shelf and frame. At the center is an image of a tun—a wooden cask used for beer or wine fermentation and serving—in high relief. Both the shive (bung hole) and keystone for the tap of the tun are represented, and the cask is untapped. The belly of the tun bears a large letter. The text accompanying the image on Plate 2.19 identifies the letter as an R, but it could actually be a K. To either side of the tun are partially unfurled scrolls, also bearing letters or syllables. In the engraving, the scrolls dynamically break out of the confines of the pediment into the mantel’s frame. This does not appear to be the case on the mantelpiece itself; the scrolls are contained within the outer frame of the pediment. On the right are the letters MYD and on the left the letters DYL. When combined, the letters and the figure of the tun spell out “K Myddylton,” likely the name of the occupant of the home at the time the mantel was installed.
To either side of the letter K and at a diagonal are archaically rendered numbers, identified as “Arabian” numerals in the text on the plate. These forms seem to record the date of the mantelpiece, although the commentary and the 1916 Inventory of Historical Monuments in Essex offer very different transcriptions of the date. The commentary records the date as 1387, whereas the Inventory identifies the mantel as early sixteenth century, perhaps 1534 (“Saffron Walden” 1916, fig. 1, Plate 11). Without access to the original carving, the number forms rendered on the engraving cannot be verified. Both the Inventory and the listing on historicengland.org.uk seem confident that the mantelpiece, indeed the house itself, dates to the sixteenth century. Therefore, the numbers recorded on Plate 2.19 are likely inaccurate or, at the very least, incorrectly interpreted.
The narrow corners of the pediment are filled with grapevines; the vines are portrayed with notable botanical accuracy. The vine displays the simple, palmately-lobed and -veined leaves, with typical coarse teeth, alternating at the nodes that is common for Vitis vinifera; however, the panicles of berries are not displayed as being opposite the leaves at the node, nor is there the presence of tendrils which adhere the vine to its arbor. The vine likewise is rendered woody with flaky bark.1 The text on the print suggests that the grape vines (along with the tun) were included on the mantelpiece because the land associated with the house may have had a vineyard, even citing William of Malmesbury on the production of wine in medieval England. The carefully-observed appearance of both the tun and the grapevines could support this point.
It is more or likewise possible that the grapevines and tun reflect Eucharistic devotion. Although certainly imbibed for enjoyment and nourishment, wine production in medieval England was closely linked to the requirements of the Mass, of holy Communion. As Rachel Fulton notes, the food and drink offered to man by Christ was believed to heal, most especially the bread and wine of the Eucharist, even if ingested outside the liturgical context (2006, 186). In medieval manuscripts, from Psalters and Books of Hours to Apocalypses, wine-making was presented as Christological. Calendars frequently include scenes of wine production as part of the Labors of the Month, specifically September (see Hourihane 2008). For example, the calendar page for September in the Queen Mary Psalter (1310-1320) represents four men engaged in wine-making: two men bring bushels full of grapes—portrayed as back-breaking work—to two men standing in a large wooden barrel, crushing grapes with their feet (London, BL Royal MS 2 B VII, fol. 79v). The “labors of the month,” although seemingly secular in nature, reinforced man’s relationship to the natural world as God’s creation, as a part of God’s Universe. The agricultural care of vineyards and the harvesting of grapes to produce wine, in particular, provided a powerful link between nature and spirituality in relation to communion. In the early sixteenth century, around the time the mantel was likely created, Henry VIII published the “Ten Articles” (1536), which reaffirmed the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the elements of the Eucharist. The tun, of course, would be used for the fermentation of the grape juice and short-term storage. The September illumination in the calendar from a late fifteenth-century Breviary (probably made in Bruges) depicts, again, four men engaged in the wine-making process (c. 1497; London, BL Add. MS 18851, fol. 5v). In this image, one man is stomping grapes, while two men pour the juice into casks using large jugs and a fourth man pours tapped wine from a cask into a metal jug for degustation.
The text on Plate 2.19 ends with a rambling discussion of the use of symbols to represent names—a name device or rebus—of which the author, presumably Ward, was familiar from antiquity and more recent history. The use of the image of the tun to communicate the end of a surname, for instance, is compared to a similar combination of letters (J MOR) and the depiction of a tun carved on the exterior of the central Bell Harry Tower at Canterbury Cathedral in recognition of the patronage of Archbishop John Morton (d. 1500). Certainly, the inclusion of the name on the mantelpiece from Saffron Walden was both a statement of ownership and a bid for family posterity. Both visually and textually, the carved mantelpiece is a unique and compelling survival; woodwork, in general, is a difficult material to preserve without intervention through time, and examples of secular or domestic wood carvings from medieval England especially are rare (see Tracy 1987, 118). Even though the mantelpiece probably is later in date than the antiquaries thought, from the sixteenth century and not the fourteenth, it is still an exceptional artistic monument, one that combines Vetusta Monumenta’s concerns with preservation, artistic appreciation, and family lineage.
: Botanical description provided by Dr. Clark Danderson.
Birch, William de Gray. 1887. Catalogue of Seals in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum. Volume 1. London.
Ellis, Roger F. 1986. Catalogue of Seals in the Public Record Office: Monastic Seals. Volume 2. London: HMSO.
Fenn, John. 1784. Three Chronological Tables, Exhibiting a State of the Society of Antiquaries of London. London: Society of Antiquaries of London.
Fulton, Rachel. 2006. “‘Taste and see that the Lord is sweet’ (Ps. 33:9): The Flavor of God in the Monastic West.” The Journal of Religion 86, no. 2 (2006): 169-204.
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