Monday, December 7, 2015

One of the 3%: A Painting that Survived the English Reformation

From The Guardian:

A rare medieval panel showing Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Christ survived the Reformation due to a remarkable instance of 16th-century recycling, researchers in Cambridge have discovered.

The brightly painted wooden panel of The Kiss of Judas escaped the systematic destruction of thousands of church paintings because someone turned it around and used the back for another purpose – most likely to display the Ten Commandments.

This recycling, discovered by the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Hamilton Kerr Institute, is also likely to have saved the panel from Puritan iconoclasts in the English civil war, who destroyed a lot of art that had survived the earlier purge.

“The single most fascinating thing about the painting is how it survived,” said Lucy Wrapson, the conservator who made the discovery. “This was basically repurposed and that’s how it made it through. I can’t stress how rare this is. I can think of one other image of Judas that survives from an English church of the period.”

Estimates say up to 97% of English religious art was destroyed during and after the Reformation.

The panel was bought by the Fitzwilliam in 2012 from the Church of St Mary in Grafton Regis, Northamptonshire, which did not have the money to conserve it. The funds went towards fixing the church roof.

The panel arrived in Wrapson’s lab in a sorry state, she said, covered in discoloured varnish, bat faeces, dust and cobwebs. “It was really dark and discoloured, you could see roughly what was on the surface but you couldn’t see the back, it had been covered by a horrible plywood board. The front was really dark and murky, you could not make out the vibrant colours.”

Please see the panel at The Guardian or at the Fitzwilliam link above. The other surviving Kiss of Judas painting is part of a series of panels depicting both the Last Judgment and the Passion of Christ in the Church of St. Michael and All Angels at Mitcheldean, Gloucestershire:

The four panels beneath the Doom painting are another visual aid in the form of eight scenes from the Passion of Christ and are reminiscent of Mystery plays of the time. The sequence starts at the bottom left hand panel showing Judas betraying Christ with a kiss accompanied by soldiers and St Peter. The scene above depicts Christ before Pilate who is seen washing his hands with water poured from a ewer. Next to this is the mocking of Christ who sits blindfolded between two tormentors. The scene below shows the further torment of the Flagellation of Christ who is tied to a miniature column similar to those used in Mystery plays. There is no painting of the crucifixion as that would have been seen in the carved figures on the Rood Loft. So the upper panel to the right of the centre shows the Deposition from the cross watched by three women, as described in Mark's Gospel. Immediately beneath this is the scene as Jesus body is laid in the tomb again watched by three women. The outer bottom right panel has the harrowing of Hell depicting Christ having descended to hell to free Adam and early Mankind. The final scene above is the Ascension, shown by the upward disappearance of Christ watched by the disciples. These panel paintings are not sophisticated in technique but the designs are bold and simple making their subjects quite clear.

Those panels had been whitewashed but uncovered in the nineteenth century.

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