Portfolio of Brasses
Each month we feature an article about a brass of particular interest.
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June 2005read more
All the brasses and incised slabs so far featured in Brass of the Month have been of figures and it is these “pictures” that tend to make brasses popular. However, they are not even half the story. Over 50% of surviving brasses dating from the 13th to the beginning of the 18th century have no effigy. They are either an heraldic shield with an inscription, or simply an inscription. When the large number of indents of lost inscriptions is taken into consideration, the percentage probably exceeds 60%. Furthermore, with the study of brasses now extending through the...
Date: 1508/9 and 1526
With May's brass of the month feature, it is a case of two for the price of one. These two fine incised effigial slabs, made from a white, fine-grained limestone (probably Caen stone) are currently mounted on the west wall of the north, seigneurial chapel of the church of Saint-Sixte, Chapelle-Rainsouin, in the department of Mayenne (53), France.
The earlier slab (2.2 x 1.1m approx) to Olivier de la Chapelle (d.1508/9) shows the figure of a man attired in armour of the period with a tabard bearing his arms (gules, a cross or) and with his feet on a hunting hound. By...read more
April's brass of the month is from Thame, Oxfordshire and commemorates Sir John Clerk, d.1539. John Clerk of North Weston manor was the third son of William Clerk of Willoughby, Warwickshire. As the inscription on his brass records, he ‘toke louys of Orleans duk of longueville…prisoner at ye Jorney of Bomy by Terouane’, better known as the Battle of the Spurs, on 16 August 1513. Clerk, who was knighted for this exploit, died on 5 April 1539. Shortly before his death, he rebuilt the 14th century manor house of the Quartermain family, which was sold by his descendant about...read more
March's brass of the month, one of the most magnificent ever produced, is in the parish church of Elsing, Norfolk, and commemorates its builder, Sir Hugh Hastyngs. He was the son (probably born in 1307) of John, 2nd Baron Hastings, by his second wife, Isabel, daughter of Hugh le Despenser, Earl of Winchester. He was an important royal commander under King Edward III in the early stages of the Hundred Years War, during which he saw much active service in France and Flanders, being present, among other battles, at Crécy (1346), where the young Black Prince first distinguished himself.read more
February’s brass of the month features the outstanding monument commemorating Sir John Say, Speaker of the House of Commons, and his wife Elizabeth, 1473, from Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. This brass is one of the rare survivals still retaining its original enamel.
Little is known of Sir John’s early life. He married Elizabeth, daughter and heir of Laurence Cheyne of Fen Ditton in Cambridgeshire and settled at Broxbourne. Say soon rose to prominence and in 1449 appears as a member of the Privy Council. He certainly represented Cambridgeshire in the Parliament of 1448-9 and Hertfordshire in the Parliament’s of 1453, 1455, 1463...read more
For the new year we have a new departure for the brass of the month feature – a Victorian revival brass, though sadly it is one that no longer survives. It was formerly in St. Mary's Convent, Handsworth, Birmingham.
The craft of memorial brass design and manufacture was revived during the nineteenth century largely through the efforts of the architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52). But the revival was only possible because in 1837 he met John Hardman who ran a button-making business in Birmingham and who shared Pugin's passion for everything medieval. Together they designed and made every...read more
December's brass of the month is a seasonal choice. It is from a brass from Cobham, Surrey of which virtually all is gone. This small brass plate (111-113 x 155-157 mm) is, however, of great interest as it is the only representation on brass of the Adoration of the Shepherds.
At the back of the plate is a thatched stable, in which the scene takes place, though the perspective is odd and it must be presumed that the front has been taken off. The naked figure of Christ lying in a manger is in the centre of the scene, with...read more
November's brass of the month is from Cowfold, Sussex and commemorates Thomas Nelond, who died in 1432. This fine brass is kept beneath a protective padlocked carpet so is not normally available for visitors to view.
This brass is an elaborate composition, with Nelond praying to images of the Virgin and child, St. Pancras and St. Thomas. He is garbed in the monastic habit – a cassock and a hooded cowl with hanging sleeves.
This is a rare survival of a brass to a monk. Once such compositions would have been commonplace, but most were destroyed following the dissolution of the...read more
October's brass of the month is from Combe Florey, Somerset and commemorates Nicholas Frauncois, esquire, d.1526. In his will, dated 13 June 1526, he asked to be buried 'within the Ile of the chauntry of our lady at Comeflory'. As is common for esquires at this date, he is shown in armour to emphasise his status. He married Cicely, daughter of Sir William Courtney of Powderham. She is not shown on the monument, perhaps because after Nicholas's death she re-married and perhaps chose to be buried with her second husband.
This is one of a series of brasses and incised...read more
September's feature is not a brass, but an unusual inlaid and incised slab from Allensmore, Herefordshire. It commemorates Sir Andrew Herley, who died in 1392, and his wife, Juliana. This is one of a small group of such slabs probably produced in Hereford in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, the others being at Canon Pyon, Dilwyn and Hereford Cathedral.
The Allensmore slab shows a knight in plate armour with a tight fitting jupon, with a lion at his feet. Beside him, the figure of Juliana wears a low necked gown with an edging of fur. In the folds...read more
August 2004read more
August's brass of the month features a brass from the collection of the Society of Antiquaries of London. It was presented to the Society on 8 January 1848 by Hugh Welch Diamond, who also presented two shields of arms also 'purchased by him, some years since, of a person who stated them to have been dredged from the bed of the river Thames'.
The brass shows a bare-headed figure of a man in armour resting his feet on a lion. Though only 519mm tall, it is a delightful composition. The style shows it to have been...
July 2004read more
One of the most spectacular brasses in Europe spent fifty years hidden in a cellar in Leningrad, generally believed to be destroyed. It disappeared from Poznan Cathedral at the beginning of the Second World War, and only reappeared when the administration of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg rather sheepishly produced it in 1990, along with half a dozen other Polish brasses, and restored it to its place. It is now fastened to the wall - rather high up - in the north east ambulatory, and not very well lit.
On the heroic scale, the brass...
June 2004read more
The feature for June is not a brass, but an incised slab. It is from Crowland, Lincolnshire and commemorates William de Wermington. Although modern-day Crowland is a small, sleepy village, it was very much more important in the medieval period, when it boasted a Benedictine Abbey of broadly equivalent status to that at Peterborough. The abbey chronicle is one of the main historical sources for the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III. The present parish church is all that remains of the much larger Abbey church.
William de Wermington's incised slab shows the beared...
May 2004read more
May's brass of the month is from Llandinabo, Herefordshire. This unusual mural composition in a stone frame commemorates Thomas Tompkins, who died in 1629. Only the figure is shown here, but it is accompanied by a rectangular plate with a poorly-engraved and worn inscription in Roman lettering.
Amongst the most poignant of monuments are those to children who died young. It is often thought that infant mortality rates meant that parents were rather resigned to such losses and rarely bothered to commemorate deceased children, yet that is not true. Although most brasses commemorate adults, it is...
April 2004read more
April's brass of the month is an unusual composition to William Bradschawe, gent., d. 1537, and his wife Alice, which was stolen brass the church of St. Mary, Wendover, Buckinghamshire in 1980. The two main figures, showing kneeling at their prayer desks, and the inscription constitute a standard type of brass produced by the London G workshops in scores, but the design has been modified to show the descendents of the couple.
Under the two main figures are their 2 sons and 7 daughters, all with their names underneath. Bridget, Margery and William are shown...
Date: c.1370 and c.1510
March 2004read more
March's brass of the month is from Ticehurst, Sussex. The inscription records that it commemorates John Wybarne, who died in 1490, and his two wives, Edith and Agnes. John Wybarne was the son of John Wybarne of Hawkwell, in Pembury, Kent, by his wife Agnes, daughter and heir of John Sidley, and the brother of Nicholas Wybarne, a knight hospitaler of Rhodes, He was possessed of considerable property in Ticehurst parish, and was a great benefactor to the church. He married first Edith Hide, by whom he had 9 children, and secondly a widow, Agnes Harris, who...
February 2004read more
February's brass of the month is from Holme-next-the-Sea, a small and somewhat remote village just inland from the north west coast of Norfolk. The brass commemorates Henry Nottingham and his wife, Agnes. Both are shown on the brass, but oddly her name is not given in the inscription. The brass originally covered their tomb in the Lady Chapel at the east end of the south aisle. When this aisle was demolished in 1778, the brass was saved and moved to the nave wall.
Henry Notingham was a country administrator and a retainer of the Duke of...
January 2004read more
January's brass of the month is the earliest surviving brass in England commemorating a woman, Joan de Cobham, who died before 1298. It is the first of the outstanding series of brasses at Cobham, Kent, which lie in serried ranks before the high altar, attesting to the power and importance of the Cobham family.
Joan's husband, John 'the younger', Lord Cobham, who died in 1300, also was commemorated by a brass. Sadly this is now lost, but it was described in antiquarian sources as 'the brass of an ancient knight with a lion under his foot and...
December 2003read more
December's brass of the month is a curious and unusual genealogical composition of c1580, from Norton Disney, Lincolnshire, commemorating three generations of the d’Iseni or Disney family, ancestors of the famous animator, Walt Disney. The brass is a two-dimensional representation of the type of wall monument popular in the late 16th century. This is particularly evident from the pediment, flanked by crests incorporating heraldic beasts, which surmounts the four rectangular panels comprising the main part of the monument. In addition to the figures and inscription, the brass has a proud display of family arms, emphasising the Disney...
November 2003read more
November's brass of the month features a monument now in the north transept of the church of Holy Trinity, Tattershall, Lincolnshire. The brass has been relaid in a slab which has rivets of the inscription from another brass; the original slab no longer survives. All that remains of this composition is a figure of a priest, though it must originally have had at least an inscription. Many inscriptions on brasses were deliberately destroyed by iconoclasts during the Reformation, but in this case the cause was probably neglect. Eighteenth and nineteenth century accounts of the brasses at Tattershall...