English Medieval Yorkstone Sculpture - Beverley Minster, Yorkshire.

English Medieval Yorkstone Sculpture - Beverley Minster, Yorkshire.
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English Medieval Yorkstone Sculpture - Beverley Minster, Yorkshire.

North or South Aisle - Hood Mould c. 1320 to 1340
Label stop figure from a hood mould, attributed to the ‘York School’ of stone carvers, probably from the North aisle arcade of the Abbey church of St John and St Martin, Beverley (Beverley Minster), Yorkshire. Circa 1320-1340.

The figure was originally designed as a decorative terminal to a moulding that formed a projecting lip along the upper edge of an architectural opening, such as a window or doorway, this feature (known as a ‘label’ or ‘hood’). The significantly aged but not weathered surface of this figure indicates an interior setting for primarily decorative purposes. A ‘V’-shaped block projecting from the figure’s back, indicates that the original emplacement was at the intersection of two opposing moulded arches, with the still structurally intact block acting as a springer. This configuration corresponds to the series of ogee-shaped arches, that form the blind arcade running along the outer wall of the upper North aisle at Beverley, built between 1320 and 1340 in the manner of a slightly earlier altar screen in the Minster. Figures hang from the points at which the arches of the arcade converge. Many of them are depicted with their bodies contorted into anatomically impossible positions. A few are overtly devotional, but most are typological figure, including musicians, fools, patriarchs, prophets, personifications, and an array of bestiary. Those that are original are highly animated: they gawk, gape, grimace, squint, leer, and even appear to gossip amongst themselves.

This figure sits well in the rather irreverent company of the North aisle figures, and she is probably one of at least eight replaced during restorations carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1866-68 and 1877. Her sculptural style, and that of her contemporaries in the North aisle, can be linked to the so-called ‘York School’, first identified by Arthur Gardner and exemplified by the monumental c. 1340 Percy tomb also at the Minster. The most recognisable shared features include almond-shaped eyes with double upper lids, a high, almost child-like forehead and prominent cheekbones, the brow drawn as two gentle curves that meet at a steep U-shaped convention directly above the bridge of the nose, and hair configured in deep, undulating waves that consist of alternating thick and thin strands. Drapery, also, is arranged in a series of nested V-folds, which recalls the Saxon origins of English medieval figure sculpture. Indeed, the characteristic design traits of this figure directly correspond not only with the North aisle figures, but also with several of the marginal sculptures of the Percy Tomb.

The identity of the figure also places her firmly within the iconography of the North aisle arcade. Clad in a loosely fitting mantel with her hips twisted sideways to an improbable degree, she grimaces while placing her right hand on her heart. This apparent gesture of fidelity identifies her as Asaneth, a wife of the Patriarch Joseph who appears in Genesis (41:50-52), and, in an apocryphal expansion is said to have promised herself to Joseph and forsworn all other suitors by symbolically placing her hand over her heart. The figure’s grimacing countenance may be explained both by the generally emotively expressive character of the North aisle figures, and by the often caricatured portrayals of Old Testament personalities, which reflects the strong current of anti-Semitism in medieval England. Given that patriarchs are depicted amongst the North aisle figures. It seems likely that this figure of Asaneth would have corresponded with an equivalent figure of Joseph.
Medium York Limestone - Carved & Sculpted
SOLD

Signed

Circa 1320 - 1340. The Aisles at Beverley Minster are documented as being completed in 1335.

Literature

This is a very rare and important early English medieval figure from what is considered the finest non Cathedral status church in the country.

It is a purely English artefact from the time that England was beginning to gain a unique expression of itself in its religion and iconography. Representing a significant Old Testament figure with a unique English interpretation from one of the countries finest schools of medieval stone carving.

References:

N. Dawton, ‘The Percy Tomb at Beverley Minster: the Style of the Sculpture’ in F. H. Thompson (ed.) Studies in Medieval Sculpture, The Society of Antiquaries Occasional Paper (new series) III (London, 1983), pp. 122-150
J. H. Harvey, ‘Architectural History from 1291 to 1558’, in G. E Aylmer and R. Cant (eds.), A History of York Minster (oxford, 1977), pp. 152-173
G. Oliver, The History and Antiquities of the Town and Minster of Beverley, in the County of York, from the most early period... (Beverley: M. Turner, 1829)
E. S. Prior and A. Gardner, An Account of Medieval Figure-Sculpture in England (Cambridge, 1912), pp. 329-35, 355-56, 373
L. Stone, Sculpture in Britain: The Middle Ages (Harmondsworth, 1955), pp. 168-176
D. H. Strickland, Saracens, Demons & Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art (Princeton, 2003), pp. 95-157

Exhibtions

Beverley Minster along with the Cathedral at York, with which it shared masons and sculptural carvers, has some of the finest early English medieval stone work in the country.

This figure of Aseneth represents an item from a significant group of early English stone sculptures from one of England's finest Churches. It is a rare survival found outside of it's place of origin, due only to the 19th Century restoration work on the fabric of the building. Items of this nature are scarcely found outside of their original context - or are often found disfigured therein due to the upheavals of the Reformation & Commonwealth periods.

The original siting of these figures high on the North & South aisles appears to have precluded them from any of the secular destruction carried out on iconographic figures during the Reformation and later.

Provenance

Beverley Minster, Beverley, Yorkshire.

The figure came with the provenance of having come from the family of the building company who had always worked at the Minster from the 19th Century onwards. The story within the family was that the figure along with others were removed during restoration work and were replaced accordingly. For many years apparently, she stood in a pot !
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