York Minster

The sculptural work in York Minster is of course far older than Victorian in the main, with much medieval and medieval style carving throughout, much of which is apparently original. Mainly little heads, gargoyles, beasts - there was a small exhibition of the beast carvings in the Chapter House when I last visited. And a goodly variety of 16th-18th C monumental work. However, there are 19th C sculptures, as well as some restorative work, and as usual we consider this first. The sculptors include Pomeroy, Noble, Westmacott, Mackennal, and the obscure J. B. Leyland, and the early work includes a memorial by Grinling Gibbons.

Several 19th C architects had a hand in restorative and additions to the earlier building. Sidney Smirke did the Nave roof in 1841, G. E. Street restored the Transept (1872-80), and the flying buttresses in the Nave are the work of G. F. Bodley (1902), along with the altar in the Presbytery.

Starting from the North Transept, below the 4-quarter chime clock is the Cradock memorial, a marble portrait head flanked by gilded female figures in niches of Loyalty and Courage. Courage has the usual sword, while Loyalty has sword with crucifix, and prominent shield. F. W. Pomeroy was the sculptor.

To the right, the door to the east end has statues of David and Miriam, the latter at least dating from 1907. Decent work with a good face, but unsigned.

In the East end, three recumbent effigies. Two are by M. Noble - himself a Yorkshire man - Archbishop Norman Harcourt, 1853, with simple drapes and unsympathetic face looking rather puffy, and with better character, Archbishop Musgrave, d. 1847. In between these two is the monument to Stephen Beckwith, a superior work, by J. Leyland.

To the right hand side of the east end, is the monument to William Burgh, d. 1808, by Richard Westmacott. A standing woman in light drapes, classical face, contrasting with large crucifix in metal.

A little way on, note the sculptured scene of Willoughby Moore, Inniskillen Dragoons and colleagues, 1854, a curious composition of clustered heads, one almost entirely obscured, and the whole unbalanced to the right. The scene is on board a ship, but this is surrounded by a shrine with angels on a plinth etc. The work is by Birnie Philip. And the York and Lancaster Indian Mutiny memorial, of 1859, with two soldiers in unfussy style. Then the small and excellent memorial to H. A. Carter (d 1917), a nice composition of a soldier in front of an angel, whose wings and drapes envelop him. The work of the Australian-born Bertram Mackennal.

In the South Transept is the monument to Archbishop William Thomson (1862-90), a recumbent figure plus dog, with little angels/saints below. And also the monument to Augustus Dunscombe, d. 1880, with girl angels at head, choir boys at feet and a variety of little figures on a shrine-like affair over the recumbent marble effigy. Unfortunately not approachable enough to appreciate properly.

So much for the 19th Century era, so now the earlier stuff. Back to the beginning, in the North Transept, the 4-quarter chime clock already mentioned, dates from 1750, and bears two figures of men at arms, made, the label says, in 1528.

Towards the East end, note the Sir George Savile memorial (d. 1784), enscribed 'Fisher sculpt, York'. A thin figure in marble, with heavy drapes over contemporary dress, and a face strong rather than sympathetic. Nearby, a 14th C conventional recumbent effigy of Prince William. And the large monument to the blankly staring Richard Sterne, Archbishop 1664-83, lounging on elbow, with horrid cherubs on either side. Good drapes, and the figure shows every sign of good living.

Next a group of typical 16th/17th C memorials, of which the most interesting is that to Sir Thomas Savage, with its little figures on the side pillars. Opposite is the monument to Thomas Watson Wentworth (d. 1723), with the subject resting his arm on an urn, grieving wife seated to right. High quality in drape and flesh, with good solidness to arm, legs breasts. There is a signature, indistinct, reading 'El Gleifi Romantis fecit' - this is a certain Giovanni Guelfi, an Italian sculptor who came to England in about 1714 to help populate Chiswich House with statues for Lord Burlingon, and stayed for some score of years before returning to Italy.

Note the lively sea battle in high relief as part of the monument to Henry Medley, vice admiral, d.1747 - a minor work of the eminent sculptor Henry Cheere.

Through into the left hand side chapel, is the Dealtrey Monument (d.1773), with a finely-draped woman with wreath, urn, and staff with climbing snake symbolic of Dealtrey's profession as a doctor). Signed 'Fishers sculpt', cf. the already-noted and similarly dated Savile Memorial by 'Fisher sculpt, York'. There were several Fishers of York, part of a family of sculptors started by John Fisher the Elder, whose career spanned the latter half of the 18th Century.

On the right hand side, the Strafford Chantrey chapel has the turn of the 17th Century William Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, and consort, as two standing marble figures, he in contemporary costume with wig, she Greek. Rather unsympathetic treatment of the middle aged sagging face. Cherubs too, snivelling rather than mourning on the left.

The monument to Archbishop Thomas Lamplugh (1681-91) is a work by Grinling Gibbons, rather more familiar in churches for his woodwork than his sculpture. The face is proud and imposing, and could be 19th Century, but the strange drapes on the body, clinging to the waist and sides of the legs, is much more Dureresque. Plump cherubs above. Next to this, the dim painted figure for Thomas Wanton (d. 1617), and opposite the flamboyant monument to Archbishop Johannes Dolben (d. 1683), lounging on his elbow, self-satisfied, with cherubs flying in clouds above. Other 17th C work follows nearby.

In the South transept, we may note the flattened recumbent figure in hard stone of the 13th Century Archbishop Walter de Grey.

And finally, the screen, a medieval work with 15 kings with oversized heads and harsh, grim faces. I'd guess this has been much fiddled with in more recent times, and certainly the rightmost king has a 19th C head. Many little figures higher up repay some effort to view.

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Victorian art in Britain // Sculpture pages // Cathedrals and churches