Art and Architecture

Anglo-Norman Sculpture in England

Late 11th capital at LastinghamEngland had a long tradition of stone sculpture before the Norman Conquest, but it was not widely used for the embellishment of buildings. This is in contrast to the Romanesque tradition in which sculpture was largely conceived for an architectural context. In the years immediately after the Capital from Reading Abbey (Reading Museum) Conquest stone sculpture in England usually involved restrained two dimensional modelling, and simple geometric motifs and forms. Figurative work was scarce.

Figure from Kilpeck (Herefordshire)In the early 12th century a new flamboyance, based on elaborate three-dimensional forms, appeared. It was influenced by both local Anglo-Saxon and Norse traditions and by continental ideas as can be seen, for example, on the capitals from Reading Abbey which was founded by Henry I. The west front of Lincoln cathedral is notable for drawing inspiration from St Denis outside Paris in its rebuilt fašade of the 1140s. A number of well-defined regional schools appeared, including those in Herefordshire and Yorkshire.

Beak heads on the south door of  Stillingfleet church (N.Yorkshire). (Photo P.Ottaway)After the mid 12th century sculpture appeared in many more parts of a building than hitherto and especially on doorways and facades. Capital with centaur from Winchester As in other media, the sculptor's subject matter became more diverse: scenes from saints' lives and biblical themes, such as the Last Judgement, were popular. The human figure, even if simply formed, was more likely to be anatomically correct and in proportion than hitherto. Secular themes included the signs of the zodiac and others which appear humorous, even vulgar. A taste for grotesque mythical beasts can be seen, for example, in the so-called beak heads which often adorn doorways.

Moses from St Mary's Abbey, YorkAt the end of the 12th century a new style of sculpture appeared featuring more naturalistic figures based on classical modes of depicting the human form as can be seen, for example, in a series of apostles from St Mary's Abbey, York.

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