University of Sussex
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Piety in peril: a religiously conservative sixteenth century school of church monuments in Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:46 authored by David Robert Hutchinson
DURING APPROXIMATELY TWENTY-FIVE YEARS of the early to mid-sixteenth century, a hitherto largely unnoticed series of Caen stone tombs were erected in Sussex and Hampshire churches with designs that emphasized religious imagery. These crudelycarved but high-status monuments displayed the piety of those commemorated and included a transitional mixture of Gothic and Renaissance motifs. Strong circumstantial evidence suggests they were carved by masons in Chichester, employed within a cathedral ‘works organisation’, who could offer lower transportation costs than those producing Purbeck marble tombs in London and Corfe, Dorset. The tombs satisfied the religiously conservative taste of local patrons with at least 14 tombs being designed as Easter Sepulchres. Later monuments appear incongruous when set against the backdrop of state-inspired change in religious doctrine and were among the last carved in the medieval tradition. As the pace of the Reformation quickened, the iconoclastic policies of the radically Protestant government of Edward VI constricted the masons’ operations and probably brought their business to an end around 1550 - despite diversification into secular work. Employing archæological recording techniques and archival research, this project identifies and catalogues, for the first time, the 32 surviving examples of these masons’ output, which demonstrate a much greater production rate and wider distribution than previously published. The project also investigates the destruction of the monuments’ religious iconography by Protestant reformers, probably in 1548-53, and/or the erasure of devotional motifs by relatives in attempts to protect the tombs from damage. In addition, the project explores issues of patronage, the sources of the masons’ designs, their construction methods and places them in the context of tomb production in London and the provinces in the mid-sixteenth century.


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