4.5 The Chancel Arch: the Doom


Images of death and judgement were universal in the late medieval church but by the 14th century the most popular representation of this subject was 'The Doom', or 'Last Judgement'(Rosewell 2008, 72-74), based on the Gospel of St Matthew and other apocalyptic sources such as the 14th-century poem The Pricke of Conscience (Davidson 2000; Waters 1983) and Sawles Warde, a West Midlands alliterative poem based on chapters 13-15 of Book Four of Hugh of St Victor's De Anima (Davidson 1988; Morris 1868). The Doom also drew on contemporary sermon traditions, such as Mirk's Festial, although the long-established visual tradition of Last Judgement imagery is also of considerable significance (Gill 2002). The Doom usually depicted Christ in Judgement, flanked by intercessory saints, over the souls of the dead, rising from their graves. It is usually accompanied by depictions of Hell (to Christ's left) and Heaven (to Christ's right). Over two-thirds of Doom paintings were located on the east wall of the nave, above the chancel arch where it was often the largest painted subject within the church (Ashby 1980, 166), although the image could also spread across onto the south and north walls of the nave. Well-preserved examples include the recently restored Doom at Holy Trinity, Coventry (Gill 2008). Gill (2011, 211-12) has argued persuasively that this Doom is of a slightly earlier date, c. 1430-1440, based on the style of the paintings, which are characterised by substantial figures, large and prominent handling of features and illusionistic architecture, in a manner that parallels the style of contemporary glaziers such as Coventry's John Thornton, and on the details of head-dresses and armour (Park 2003a). It is likely that this nearby Doom influenced that at Stratford, but the style of the Guild Chapel paintings is very different (Davidson 1988, 32). Closer in date and style to Stratford is the late 15th-century Last Judgement at St Thomas'church, Salisbury, and those at Holy Trinity, Penn (Bucks) c. 1500 and Wenhaston, (Suffolk) c. 1480, which are painted on wooden panels.

The model and the paintings

The Stratford-upon-Avon Doom depicts The Last Judgement as described in Matthew, Chapter 25 (Davidson and Alexander 1985, 69-70) (see model). Christ sits on a rainbow with his right hand raised in blessing and with his left pointing downwards. The world is depicted as a globe, beneath his feet. To his right kneels the Blessed Virgin Mary, shown with long flowing hair and a nimbus, wearing a blue, ermine-lined mantle with a girdle at her waist. Her hands are raised, with her palms facing outwards. To Christ's left is St John the Baptist, shown in his brown, camel robe, also with a nimbus but with his hands held up in a gesture of prayer. St John the Baptist was the standard intercessor in English and central European Doom iconography, in contrast to the French tradition, where St John the Divine appears. However, his inclusion at Stratford further reflects the joint dedication of the Holy Cross guild. However, Stratford lacks the images of the Apostles, which are present in Holy Trinity, Coventry c. 1430-140. The Stratford Doom was designed to incorporate a three-dimensional Rood: a crucifix flanked by images of Mary and St John the Evangelist, the shadow of which is still visible against the painting today (Figure 2), and which appears to have been removed from the chapel only in 1564/5, under the auspices of the chamberlain, John Shakespeare. Far from being a unique feature of the Stratford Doom (Mooney 2000, 184), however, this was also a common feature of many contemporary Last Judgement chancel paintings (Rosewell 2008, 75-77).

At Stratford, as elsewhere, Christ visibly displays his wounds. At Holy Trinity, Coventry, paint analysis has revealed the careful use of vermillion, red lead and red lake to differentiate these as 'fresh'blood in order to emphasise the theology of Christ's suffering (Duffy 1992, 246-8; Gill 2011, 215). Although it is impossible to assess whether such a technique was also used at Stratford, it is interesting that Fisher's lithographs also depict 'fresh'blood in a very distinctive way. Behind Christ, there are angels bearing the instruments of his Passion; a detail of the Holy Trinity image which has only recently been revealed through conservation but which is known form other contemporary sites such as Penn (Bucks) (Gill 2011, 215). At Stratford, these images would also have related theologically to the depiction of the Five Wounds on the south wall of the chancel.

To Christ's left (the right of the scene) Hell is depicted as a tower, from whose crenellated battlements lean demons blowing horns, as a chained and naked group of men and women are led by a demon towards a monstrous 'mouth of Hell'. Several of the figures are clearly identified by scrolls with latin inscriptions as the Seven Deadly Sins. Pride is carried on the back of a horned devil while Avarice and Wrath are also present at the mouth of Hell, and another un-named figure is dragged by the leg towards the Hell mouth by a demon with a flesh hook. Inside Hell, Gluttony and Envy are already being tortured; the former is suspended by a hook through her nose, while the latter is suspended and flogged by another demon. Below is the 'fiery furnace', a stone-built circular structure whose flames are fanned by a bellows-bearing demon, while others with pitchforks, flesh hooks and flails prod its unhappy inhabitants.

On the opposite side of the Doom is the Heavenly Jerusalem, depicted as a series of palatial and ecclesiastical buildings with multiple windows and buttresses, and crenellated battlements inhabited by angels playing musical instruments that may include a harp, lute and trumpet (Davidson and Alexander 1985, 69). Greeting the saved at the Gates of Heaven is St Peter, with a nimbus, wearing a green mantle over a red gown and holding the keys. He welcomes a group of naked men and women, many of whom are depicted in gestures of prayer. At the back of this group are the figures of a Pope, wearing a triple crown, a bishop wearing a mitre and a king in his crown. The retention of these trappings of status is also visible in the figures of the dead rising from their graves. Here, further papal, royal and episcopal figures rise from holes in the ground or stone sarcophagi, also in gestures of prayer, as they gaze upon Christ sitting in Judgement. It is interesting that at Stratford, all of these appear to be associated with Christ's right-hand side. None of the figures entering Hell bear such symbols of status. This contrasts with the 15th-century Doom at Holy Trinity, Coventry, where there is a spread of kings, queens, cardinals and clerics across the groups of the saved and the damned (Gill 2011, 213). It is also possible that the two figures depicted immediately beneath Christ's feet are meant to represent Adam and Eve, as at Coventry (Gill 2011, 213).

The model contains three different antiquarian drawings of the Doom painting: those of Thomas Fisher (1804), E.W. Tristram (1929) and Wilfrid Puddephat (SBT 624/15 (i)). The model here can be used as a research tool to explore how elements of the paintings had disappeared as a consequence of the restorations of 1804 and the re-whitewashing of the Doom until its re-exposure and conservation by Tristram in 1929 (Figures 19-20). Puddephat's drawing (Figure 21) is of further interest in that as well as documenting some aspects of the lost painting (although the devastating effect of Tristram's conservation work was not then as apparent as it is today), it also seeks to reconstruct features of the painting by using Fisher's 1804 drawing as a model. Puddephat's archive, held by the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archives, reveals that he possessed copies of Tristram's drawings, as well as those of Fisher (SCLA SBT 624/15 (ii)).

Figure 19  Figure 20  Figure 21

Figure 19: The Doom, Stratford-upon-Avon Guild Chapel, E.W. Tristram (© V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, E553-1930)
Figure 20:Detail of the Doom, Stratford-upon-Avon Guild Chapel, E.W. Tristram (© V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, E554-1930)
Figure 21: The Doom, Stratford-upon-Avon Guild Chapel, Wilfrid Puddephat (© Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive, DR399/1/1/4/GC J8, reproduced with permission of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust).

Tristram's drawings (see model) show that the upper section of the painting including Christ's head and shoulders, the upper section of the rainbow on which he is seated, and a series of four flanking angels — three to the right of the scene (Christ's left) and one to the left (Christ's right), carrying instruments of the Passion, had all disappeared owing to the lowering of the ceiling during the 1804 restoration work. There had also been a loss of detail within the scene. Fisher depicts the battlements of Hell as a solid wall between two devils who are both blowing horns, whereas Tristram shows this as an indistinct area, filled with flames. Other missing — and misinterpreted — details include the figure riding on the shoulders of a Devil, about to enter the Hell Mouth. In Fisher, this figure carries a scroll labelled 'superbia'or pride, one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but by 1928 this scroll was indistinct and was shown by Tristram as an extended arm. Puddephat corrects this, re-inserting the text in his drawing. Further differences occur in the representation of three figures placed centrally within the Hell building. In 1804, two of these figures at least represented further vices with scrolls - 'gula'(gluttony) and 'invidia'(envy). However, by 1928 these were indistinct and although Tristram was aware that they existed, he did not attempt to reconstruct this missing detail, unlike Puddephat. However, Tristram also added new details to the scene, elongating the upper section and adding a centrally placed Devil with a pitchfork to this scene.

The figures of the chained Damned entering the Hell Mouth were reasonably well preserved in 1929, and Tristram did include the scrolls, if not the text, associated with 'ira'(wrath) and 'avaricia'(greed) in his painting, as did Puddephat. However, the figure in a shroud, depicted intercessing or praying to Christ adjacent to the chained group in Fisher, is barely visible at the edge of this group in Tristram. Finally, the lower sections of Hell, including the fiery furnace and its unhappy occupants, appears to have been destroyed completely by 1929, and only the fragments of the top of the image are visible in Tristram's drawing. Once again, Puddephat reconstructs these details, using Fisher as his model.

On the left of the painting, there are similar discrepancies between Tristram and Fisher's drawings. Tristram's composition of the buildings in the upper sections of Heaven seems more convincing than Fisher's, with a tower added to the left of a pair of prominent columns flanking St Peter, adjacent to a square-ended chapel-like building and crenellations added to the upper sections of this building, in line with those of the building at the edge of this scene. Interestingly, Puddephat repeats Fisher's detail here, omitting this element. Elsewhere, however, Tristram's drawing demonstrates the loss of detail in this part of the scene, such as figures with crowns and mitres shown towards the back of the group of the Saved, or the tonsured figure at the bottom of Fisher's drawing, who Tristram interpreted as female, wearing a head-dress. Although Tristram included the Rood and its flanking figures in his drawing, he also omitted the detail of the Rood beam and corbels at the base of the Doom (Figure 19). This seems slightly puzzling, since these are still visible today and are clearly included in Puddephat's drawing (Figure 2; Figure 21).

However, Tristram also recorded details that do not appear in Fisher's or Puddephat's drawings. Most notable is the green verdigris, 'millefleurs' floral background of the Doom scene, shown in Tristram's detail of the Stratford Doom, E554-1930 (Figure 20). In contrast, Fisher simply shows tufted grass against the green verdigris of his image. At one level, the preservation of this level of delicate detail in 1928 seems remarkable given that the Doom had been re-covered and whitewashed in the intervening years. However, it seems highly unlikely that Tristram would have completely invented these details, a hypothesis further supported by the fact that a similar background was used at Coventry (Gill 2011, 215) and by the fact that Long's (1930, 231) description of the rediscovered painting in The Burlington Magazine also refers to 'a ground covered with exquisitely painted flowers, reminiscent of a 15th-century tapestry'. Puddephat also reproduced this background in his drawing (Figure 21). It may well be that Fisher ignored or simplified these details because they would not have reproduced successfully in his lithographs.


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