Saturday, 13 August 2011

Monumental Brasses

Margaret Camoys, Trotton
The craft of engraving a memorial into a sheet of brass and letting it into a stone slab began in the early 13th century and reached its zenith in the 14th, when the classic brasses of knights in armour and ladies in wimples were produced.
Lord and Lady Camoys, Trotton
The brass to Margaret Camoys in Trotton church is exactly what we think a brass should look like. She died in 1310 and her memorial is the first full-size brass, and the first to a woman. Wearing a wimple and flowing garments, her feet rest on a dog. Originally, enamelled shields were set on her dress. The portrait is simple, bold and moving.
Close by is a huge and superb brass to Lord and Lady Camoys, dating from a century later, showing the couple rather charmingly holding hands.
John Wantele,
Few brasses were as large as the Camoys'. John Wantele in Amberley, for example, died in 1424, and his brass is only a couple of feet tall. It shows him in armour and surcoat, his sword by his side and his dog beneath his feet. It still has traces of the enamel that originally picked out his coat of arms.
In medieval times memorial brasses were a surprisingly large industry, dominated by several workshops in London. All the metal, an alloy of copper and zinc, was imported from Germany, which had the monopoly, so it was often referred to as latten (old German for plate) or cullen (from Cologne).
In the 16th century, brasses were taken up by the middle classes. The plate got thinner and the engraving got shallower and fussier. Whole families are often portrayed, the husband and all the sons lined up on one side and the wife and daughters on the other – there is an excellent example at Warminghurst.
Henry Wilsha, Storrington
The 1591 brass to Henry Wilsha, vicar of Storrington shows him in academic dress, but the lines are barely visible after centuries of Brasso. Shortly thereafter, brasses ceased to be made until a remarkable revival in Victorian times. Arundel church even has a fine brass to the Duke of Norfolk in his Garter robes, made in 1979.