5.3 Twentieth-century antiquarians

5.3.1 E.W. Tristram

Although during the 19th century the Stratford Guild Chapel and its paintings had excited the interest of so many eminent and local antiquarians, the paintings were nevertheless whitewashed over and parts of the chancel paintings, at least, appear to have been completely destroyed. By the end of the century attitudes had changed. In 1898 the antiquarian Bailey described the destruction of the Stratford chancel images as an act of 'amazing stupidity' (Bailey 1898, 297). By the early 20th century, scholars such as Ernest William Tristram (1882-1952), Professor of Art and Design at the Royal College of Art, were beginning to demonstrate the significance of the English tradition of wall painting in exhibitions such as that of the 'British Primitives' held at The Royal Academy in 1923 (RA 1924) and volumes such as Tristram's 1927 English Medieval Wall Painting, published jointly with another antiquarian, Tancred Borenius. As more paintings came to light in the early 20th century, E.W. Tristram became the acknowledged expert on the subject and undertook a herculean effort to research and record the paintings by hand, and to offer advice on their conservation and restoration.

Tristram's research resulted in the publication of three major volumes of English Medieval Wall Painting, covering the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, published by the Pilgrim Trust in 1944, 1950 and posthumously, in 1955. The drawings on which his research was based were gradually acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum. In 1924 they were setting aside £50 per annum for this purpose (V&A MA/1/T1339) and by 1931 this had risen considerably. When questioned by the Treasury about this level of expenditure, the Director responded swiftly that, 'The formation of some such collection of copies of English wall paintings seems to me to be essentially part of our function here and it is not being done elsewhere', adding that 'I do not think any competent judge would deny that Professor Tristram's drawings are almost immeasurably superior to any others which have been or are being made in this particular field'. However, Tristram's conservation efforts were less successful. His use of wax dissolved in turpentine as a fixative created an impervious surface which prevented damp from escaping through the lime-plaster surfaces and ultimately resulted in damage to the very paintings he sought to preserve (Figure 2).

Tristram's notebooks, compiled with his colleague Monica Bardswell, were also deposited at the Victoria & Albert Museum, in the National Art Library. They demonstrate that Tristram was familiar with the discovery and recording of the paintings by Thomas Fisher in 1804 and with the fact that they were 'mostly entirely destroyed with the exception of some slight traces on the nave walls and a representation of the Last Judgement on the chancel arch' (V&A National Art Library 86.22.121 Warwickshire Notebook). Tristram was obviously aware of, and in touch with, colleagues in Stratford-upon-Avon before he commenced work on the Doom in 1929. A further note, which must date to 1928-9, records that, 'Recently the latter has again been brought to light & in parts, is in fair condition', and a contemporary article by E.T. Long in The Burlington Magazine, confirms the recent re-exposure of the Doom after its 'obliteration' under a 'thick coat of whitewash' in the 19th century (Long 1930, 231; see also Bailey 1898, 297). The re-discovery of the painting provided Tristram with the opportunity to record and conserve it (Tristram 1929).

Although Tristram and Long acknowledged the importance of Fisher's initial record of the paintings, both were somewhat scathing about the quality of his drawings. Long described them as 'indifferent' and Tristram suggested that while they gave 'some indication of the nature of the subject but [were] inaccurate and almost valueless as illustrations of the quality of the workmanship'. Tristram's notes also questioned why some images said to have been exposed in 1804, such as that of St Francis, failed to appear in Nichols volume of 1838. Ink annotations note that in 1926, fragmentary images of 'a man + Z, a woman in 15th-century headdress, some trees + architecture, very faint briars' had been found to the right of the chancel arch, on the south-west side, but the date of this annotation is uncertain.

During his work in the Chapel in 1929 Tristram also noted that there were also surviving remains of tiered paintings on the north and south walls of the nave, 'separated by bands of minute black lettering' but overlain by later painting and 'so fragmentary that it is impossible to identify the subject'. It was these images that were rediscovered and recognised as The Dance of Death and scenes from the Life of Adam by Wilfrid Puddephat in 1955-6. Interestingly, the notebooks contain a series of pencilled notes about Puddephat's discovery and a cutting from the Church Times dated 15 February 1957, referring to their preservation. These must have been added by Tristram's wife, Eileen, or by Monica Bardswell, who co-edited the 14th-century volume of English Medieval Wall Paintings after his death in 1952.

Tristram's drawings of the Stratford-upon-Avon wall paintings were purchased by the V&A almost immediately after they were completed on 4 September 1929 as part of a group of 295, including others from Canterbury Cathedral, for the sum of £869 10s 0d. The accession record (V&A MA/1/T1339 Form T) reads as follows:

Stratford-on-Avon Guild ES539
Chapel: 2 drawings E554/1930 £26

(However, the first reference contained an error and the two drawings are now accessioned within the V&A Prints and Drawings collection as E553-1930 and E554-1930).

The Last Judgement painting

E.W. Tristram created two drawings of the Stratford-upon-Avon Doom, or Last Judgement (Figure 19 and Figure 20). The first shows the full extent of the Last Judgement scene, including the upper section of the chancel arch (V&A Images E553-1930). The second is a detail of figures in the lower left-hand section of the Doom (V&A Images E554-1930). Although the iconography of these images is discussed elsewhere, contrasting Tristram's drawings with those of the antiquarian Thomas Fisher reveals important differences in the methods and approaches of these two scholars, as well as the extent to which details of the paintings had been lost between 1804 and 1929.

Both Tristram and Fisher drew to scale. However, whereas the Stratford paintings were an unusual addition to Fisher's normal work of recording monuments and inscriptions, Tristram had developed a sophisticated methodology for recording the detail of wall paintings in order to understand how they fitted into a chronological understanding of the form and style of medieval wall paintings. In his analysis of the paintings, Tristram concluded that the Doom had been 'painted in oil colours directly onto the surface of the stone in the nave with red lead priming in places, & in the chancel in plaster' (V&A National Art Library 86.22.121 Warwickshire Notebook). He therefore attempted to show this in his drawings, using watercolour washes to show the relationship between the layers of paint and the ashlar masonry beneath (Figures 19-20). Tristram's drawings sought to record, and replicate, the style and character of the medieval painter's art, most apparent perhaps in his treatment of facial expressions, such as those of the figures of the Virgin and St John flanking the seated Christ, St Peter at the Gates of Heaven, or the Hell Mouth. Tristram's drawings also sought to provide an accurate record of the extent to which the paintings had been damaged between their initial discovery in 1804 and re-uncovering in 1929, the details of which are discussed elsewhere. Finally, Tristram includes details, such as the floriated background of the Doom scene, which are not included in Fisher's drawings. Tristram does not, therefore, appear to have used a copy of Fisher's drawings to help him interpret the fragmentary remains of what he found in 1929. This may reflect his rather dismissive attitude to Fisher's recording methods and Tristram certainly appears in general to have been more scientific and 'archaeological' in his approach than his 19th century predecessor.

5.3.2 Wilfred Puddephat

Wilfred Puddephat (1915-1974) was the Art Master at King Edward VI Grammar School, Stratford-upon-Avon. In 1955, as S.E. Dykes Bower's extensive restoration of the Guild Chapel commenced, his 'dormant curiousity about the fragmentary mural decorations along its north and south walls was awakened by the realization that they would soon be permanently concealed' (Puddephat 1958, 29). Puddephat was aware not only of the discoveries made by Wheler and Fisher in 1804, but also of John Stow's reference to the Dance of Death which he felt was 'unexplained'. Puddephat subsequently embarked on an ambitious and meticulous programme of analysis, recording and research, which is described in a published article and a series of notes, lectures, drawings and slides deposited at the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archives (Puddephat 1958; SCLA DR624/13 (iii), 624/16, 624/17, 624/22, 624/33, 624/27-31).

The close analysis of the Puddephat archive reveals the enthusiasm, determination and meticulous approach to the recording and analysis of the Stratford Guild Chapel wall paintings, as well as a delightful sense of humour. In his lecture notes Puddephat (SCLA DR624/13 (iii) described his discovery of the Dance of Death:

'One afternoon, in February 1955, I found a corpse in the Guild Chapel nave. Although the body was in an advanced state of decay, there was nothing particularly gruesome about my discovery. The remains were those of a person who had never lived, except in the imagination of an unknown Tudor artist, who had been commissioned by the Guild of the Holy Cross to decorate their newly reconstructed chapel.'

His notes chart the process, as well as the conclusions of his archive and comparative research and help to shed light on his recording methodology:

'I should add that the frustration of knowing so little about the remains of this mural eventually drove me up the wall...with a tape measure in my hand' (SCLA DR624/13 (iii)).

Puddephat was also the first scholar of the Stratford paintings to deploy photography as well as scale drawings, to inform his analysis and to make a record of the restoration works in progress (Figure 30). His photographic archive of slides in the SCLA holds considerable potential for future research into the survival and condition of the paintings in the 1950s, although its detailed use for the digital model lay outside the scope and resources of this project. Puddephat's notes indicate that he was intending to publish a volume on the Guild Buildings as a complex, which was never realised.

Figure 30

Figure 30: Wilfrid Puddephat recording the north wall of the nave, Stratford-upon-Avon Guild Chapel (© Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive, DR409/6/23, reproduced with permission of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust).

At first glance, E.W. Tristram's conclusion that the paintings in the nave were 'indecipherable' appears justified (Figure 23). However, Puddephat managed to disentangle the Dance of Death from two later schemes of painted architectural decoration which had obscured it. The latest of these was a frieze of early 18th-century date, approximately 5½ feet deep (1.7m), which originally extended right round the chapel. The frieze consisted of a series of rounded pilasters with Corinthian capitals painted in imitation of red and pink marble with cream highlights, fragments of which are still visible around the entrances to the building (Puddephat 1958, 31). When the 19th-century panelling was removed, it exposed sections of an earlier architectural scheme, 6½ feet deep (c2m) and painted in grisaille. This scheme also appears to have extended right round the nave and was composed of a series of rounded columns spaced at the same intervals as their 18th-century successors, with shallow square pedestals connected by horizontal ribs of moulding and with the spaces in between painted in a crude imitation of marbling. Puddephat suggested that the 'inaccurate perspective' deployed in these images was suggestive of a late 16th-century date, although an early 17th-century date now seems more likely. The lowest zone of the north wall also revealed two schemes of imitation dado panelling, one of Jacobean date commencing at the east end of the nave and extending westwards by approximately 19½ feet (5.9m). There was no evidence of similar panelling on the south wall, where 'the defacing coat of whitewash' was visible. Two further strips of plain brown dado panelling east of the north and south entrances were also identified as of early 19th-century date (Puddephat 1958, 31). Here, Puddephat's training as an art teacher enabled him to use his knowledge of the historical development of painted decorative schemes to inform his stylistic analysis of the paintings.

Having established the stratigraphic relationship of the painted schemes on the north wall, Puddephat was then able to focus his attention on a large 'L-shaped' area on the north wall from which superficial paint layers had been removed. Puddephat immediately recognised 'the processional content of the pictures', from which he could determine their probable dimensions and arrangements and decipher a few words of the accompanying inscriptions. Through comparative analysis of the text, Puddephat drew on the surviving versions of the Dance of Death to propose that the Stratford-upon-Avon version had affinities with two texts surviving in the Bodleian Library, Oxford: the MSS. Corpus Christi 237 and Bodley 636. From this, he created a 'skeleton' arrangement that was tested against the remaining images and which revealed that there were also some variations in the Stratford scheme, discussed in the Dance of Death section (SCLA DR624/13 (iii), 624/16, 624/17, 624/22, 624/23, 624/27-31; SCLA DR409/6, DR 409/9 and SCLA DR399).

The close analysis of Puddephat's archive notes, including his discussion of the research process, was crucial to the decision to incorporate Puddephat's reconstruction drawing in the model, despite the apparently fragmentary nature of the evidence. Surviving 'action shots' of Puddephat recording the north wall also reveal his use of what archaeologists today would understand as a 'stone-by-stone' form of buildings recording, using a tape measure to produce accurate scaled drawings of the scheme (Figure 23; Figure 30). It is important to stress the quality of Puddephat's research and the accuracy of his drawings and photographs to counter their recent description as 'an amateur reconstruction of a small, badly damaged and now covered over late-fifteenth-century imitation of the Daunce of Poulys' (Appleford 2008, 288). While Puddephat would not have thought of himself as a pioneering buildings archaeologist, his meticulous approach, like that of Tristram, clearly derived from his artistic training and practice. Puddephat also deciphered traces of what appeared to be scenes from the 'Lyf of Adam', a preface to the Legend of the Holy Cross, on the south wall of the nave and 'probably by the same artist' (SCLA DR623/13 (i)). This suggestion reflects Puddephat's opinion that all the paintings in the Guild Chapel were of a similar date, based on the stylistic analysis of the head dress recorded by Fisher in both the Legend of the Holy Cross and other paintings.


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