Post-classical history

NOTE ON BRASSES

A surprising number of people connected with the five personalities around whom this book is based are commemorated by examples which survive. Only one or two have ever been illustrated before, other than in specialist studies of brasses.

A monumental brass is generally an outline figure which has been engraved. The metal was manufactured abroad, in Germany, the Low Countries or France; known as ‘latten’, it was different from modern brass, an alloy of copper and calamine zinc produced in a crucible. However, the figure was shaped and engraved locally in England, fine quality brasses being specially commissinoned. When completed the figure was set in an indented stone slab, which was usually inserted into the floor of a church. The earliest English example to survive dates from 1279. Although popular in other European countries as well, more were laid down in England during the later Middle Ages than anywhere else. Many were destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Reformation or the Civil Wars – the metal often being melted down to make saucepans – but almost 4,000 remain.

The coats-of-arms which often accompany brasses were frequently enamelled and the unique series of medieval garter-plates – arms of Knights of the Garter – at St George’s Chapel, Windsor are in fact brasses, though not generally acknowledged as such.

Incised slabs (such as William Shore’s) are rare. They are very similar to brasses, etched on stone in much the same way that the latter were engraved on latten.

No period of English history is better illustrated by brasses than the Wars of the Roses, and not even the most beautiful illuminated manuscript conjures up its atmosphere more vividly – especially when the brass still lies in the ancient parish church where those whom it represents once prayed.

ILLUSTRATIONS

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‘Hath not thy rose a thorn, Plantagenet?’ Shakespeare’s imagined confrontation in King Henry VI, by Henry Payne.

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Henry VI. A sixteenth-century copy of a lost portrait.

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Margaret Beaufort. Portrait by Maynard Waynwyk before 1523.

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Edward IV. A sixteenth-century copy of a lost portrait.

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The Princes in the Tower, by John Millais.

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Richard III. A sixteenth-century copy of a lost portrait.

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Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and queen of Henry VII. A sixteenth-century copy of a lost portrait.

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Henry VII. A copy of a lost portrait painted about 1500.

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