Sunday, February 22, 2009

Salisbury Cathedral: The Lady Chapel

The Lady Chapel, originally separated from the choir, thrown into the presbytery by Wyatt for the sake of his much overrated vista, is once again partially hidden by the reredos and the grille work of the screen on either side. As the earliest portion of the building, and the only part Bishop Poore lived to see completed, it would not lack interest, were it commonplace in character; but it is on the contrary a particularly graceful example of its time. The whole chapel is divided into a nave and side aisles by single and clustered shafts of Purbeck marble. These extremely slender shafts look unequal to the heavy groined roof they support; for although nearly thirty feet high, the four largest are not quite ten inches in diameter, while the clustered ones are mere rods. Francis Price, whose interest in the building, as he showed throughout his monograph, was that of a practical builder, was "amazed at the vast boldness of the architect, who certainly piqued himself on leaving to posterity an instance of such small pillars bearing so great a load. One would not suppose them," he says, "to stand so firm of themselves as even to resist the force of an ordinary wind." The modern colouring of this part of the building, including the low eastern aisle immediately behind the reredos, is claimed to be an exact restoration of the original, but it is hardly agreeable. The black of the newly polished marble shafts, the dull green of other parts, with the red, green, and white of the vaulting ribs, is more bizarre than beautiful. In regarding traces of mediƦval colouring one often forgets that time has blended harmoniously a scheme otherwise entirely crude, and to modern taste unpleasing. How far in English instances this is emphasized by the absence of rich hangings, carpets, vestments, and pictures, it is not within our subject to inquire; but since such restoration of the primitive colouring offends one less in churches that still preserve the more ornate furniture of the Roman Ritual, it is at least a moot point.

The triple lancet east window at the end of the Lady Chapel was filled formerly with stained glass, representing "The Resurrection," after a design by Sir Joshua Reynolds; it is now replaced by modern glass in memory of the late Dean Lear. An altarpiece, composed of fragments of the destroyed Hungerford and Beauchamp Chapels, was set up here by Wyatt. It has lately been replaced by a triptych designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield, with very beautiful panels painted by Mr. Buckeridge. The seven-branched candlesticks in black-wood, silver mounted, are by the same architect. The altar frontal, designed by Mr. Sidney Gambier Parry, and worked by Mrs. Weigall, is so good that it must not be overlooked. The altar itself is of stone from an old altarpiece. Under the windows runs a series of niches, once in the Beauchamp Chapel. Above these rich and delicate canopies, with foliage and fan-tracery springing from corbelled heads, runs an exquisitely sculptured frieze.

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