Historical recreation – creating new artwork rooted in the past

My latest commission was initially to make an exact copy of a stone lion that had guarded a 15th century doorway in Italy.  However the project soon turned into a more creative challenge – to carve a newly designed lion in a specifically medieval style.

  6a  6d

Not making an exact copy of an existing carving has its benefits – I was able to take into account the client’s individual preferences, and the room in which the sculpture will be placed;  The lion is to sit in a bay window at the front of the client’s house so I placed his tail where it will be seen through the window and turned his head to greet people as they enter the room.

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Though one specific lion prompted the commission, the new design was influenced by several other 15th century examples. My client had seen the Italian antique in an auction catalogue but the carving was weather-damaged with many features worn away. (See the original below, and others further down).

15th century Italian door supportIt wasn’t hard to find similar carvings whose features remain clearly visible.  Lions symbolised courage and nobility so can often be seen on medieval tombs supporting the feet of armoured knights.  Sheltered inside churches their details are often well preserved and a great resource for study.

1bAbove: The tomb of Sir Richard de Vere, St Stephen’s Chapel, Bures, Essex
Below, left to right: St Stephen’s Chapel, Bures, Essex, All Saint’s Church, Leeds, Gloucester Cathedral, V&A Medieval Sculpture

1AAll Saint's Church, LeedsTomb lion Gloucester11Lion in V&A collection

These lions are fantastical.  Few Medieval travellers would have seen a real lion so the sculpted features are based on hearsay, the work of other artists, the stonecarver’s personal taste and the extent of his skill.

When it came to creating a new sculpture based on these medieval carvings my client specified which particular elements he liked or disliked, stipulating that his lion should look thoughtful and definitely NOT CUTE’.  As many of these medieval carvings looked a bit like cats or dogs wearing wigs this was a narrow path to tread.

Creating a completely new artwork that was rooted in a specific historic style raised some subtle issues.  The tomb lions (whose body shape I took for inspiration) stoop under the weight of their knight’s feet.  However raising the head and straightening the body posture had interesting stylistic repercussions; I had to guard against making my upright lion look Victorian, like the proud beasts in Trafalgar Square (below).  It also hindered me to look images of real lions – too many anatomically correct details gave the sculpture an excessively modern appearance.
Trafalgar Sq lion

I came across a similar issue several years ago when reconstructing a damaged low-relief image of Anne Boleyn (see below).  Known as ‘The Moost Happi’ medal it was made in 1534, and is now held in The British Museum. This portrait is the subject worldwide fascination because it bears the only surviving, uncontested contemporary depiction of Anne Boleyn’s appearance.  Knowing the intense scrutiny that my reconstruction would come under I made several attempts to capture her image, each more carefully defined than the last. However, refining her features took away the 16th century style of the medallion and gave Anne’s face a Classical appearance. This version would have pleased legions of fans who wish to believe that Anne Boleyn fitted within modern standards of beauty. However, it would have diminished the authenticity of the reconstruction.

1 High resolution Anne Boleyn The Moost Happi medal from British Museum1
(Left, the original medal in the British Museum. Right, my reconstruction)

As a stonecarver I often look at old buildings and like to think that I can spot and date restored carvings.  Victorian restoration work gives itself away by being too neat, and animals carved in the 20th and 21st century often look unintentionally cartoon-like.  We view animals more often on YouTube than in person, whereas medieval carvers showed a close familiarity with nature.  Their mythical beasts might have been fantastical creations but their features look real. There is an attention to detail, such as the bones and sinews indicated below the surface of the skin, that comes from a daily contact with nature ‘red in tooth and claw’. Contemporary culture is no longer imbued with the life-and-death struggle that pre-occupied our predecessors, and we have swopped a knowledge of natural forms for clean lines and a more sophisticated awareness of style.

Trying to authentically recreate the past is a subtle and subjective art. Artists, writers and film directors face the same challenge when creating new work based on historic events. That is, to try and identify the essential elements, and truthfully convey them to a modern audience. How much leeway is given to engage the viewer or reader is up to the artist or writer. But even with the best intention to represent the past accurately, one cannot help but look at the surviving evidence and focus on that which appeals to our current taste.  Cultural philosopher Susan Bordo has written an interesting examination of how history is reinterpreted and represented according to our own preferences and the age we live in.  In her book, ‘The Creation of Anne Boleyn’ she interviews Hilary Mantel, author of the novel Wolf Hall.  Like all historical fiction the book, and its recent dramatisation, has been the subject of much debate regarding its interpretation and delivery of the past.
Mantel observes; ‘All historical fiction is really contemporary fiction.  We always write from our own time’.
I wonder whether people will look back at my historically based sculpture and date it to the early 21st century?

1  163

You can see a short video showing this lion here
Read about my reconstruction of Anne Boleyn’s Moost Happi medal here

Much ado about nothing – or ‘a storm in a Tudor tankard’.

Another media frenzy regarding Anne Boleyn’s facial features.

I picked the wrong day to be away from my desk and out of contact yesterday. If not when the worlds media ignited once again over Anne Boleyn I might have been able to set the record straight, or at least been credited for my work.

Professors Amit Roy Chowdhury and Conrad Rudolf of University of California in Riverside have in recent years used facial recognition technology to identify historical portraits, with some interesting results. I read about their work in May 2012 and wrote to Conrad Rudolf suggesting that it might be interesting to examine the many portraits that are claimed to be of Anne Boleyn.

I had just completed, with the permission of The British Museum, my study of what is the only surviving and undisputed contemporary portrait of Anne Boleyn – the Moost Happi Anno 1534 medal, and had concluded that it contained much more data than had previously supposed. The medal is made from lead and though there is no sign of willful damage careless storage in the past had resulted in some compression of the features.  This lead historians to dismiss the value of this image as a tool for comparison.

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However, on close examination I saw that it was only Anne’s left eye and her nose that had been displaced and that all other details could be viewed in great and precise detail. The quality of craftsmanship was so high that even the weave of the fabric on her headdress, the jeweled billiment and the necklace could be identified as that worn by Jane Seymour in a portrait by Holbein.

4a JaneSeymour Holbein portrait with pearl and jewel necklace

In fact, elements of the costume and jewelery worn in the Moost Happi medal can be found in a number of portraits of Henry’s other wives.  The necklace is the same (different pendant) but the Gable Hood differs in the disputed Nidd Hall portrait.  Though the sitter in this painting wears a brooch with the initials AB some historians believe that this is actually a portrait of Jane Seymour – amended and embellished during Elizabeth I’s reign during a renewed appetite for portraits of the queen’s mother, Anne Boleyn.

5aAnn Boleyn Nidd Hall portrait with pearl and jewel necklace

I wondered whether a facial recognition technology might throw some light on the alignment of the sitter’s features in the Nidd Hall portrait, and Conrad Rudolf was happy to Include these images, and those of other members of the Tudor family, in his latest study.

Alas, by early 2014 it was clear that the results were inconclusive;  this particular method does not work so well when the subject is in a three-quarter position (as opposed to full-faced or side profile). As many of the Tudor portraits were shown from this angle the results were negligible. As a result, according to Conrad Rudolf, the data concerning Anne Boleyn will not be included in the final FACES project report, which is due to be published shortly.

Nevertheless the mere unofficial mention of Anne Boleyn was enough to send the worlds media into a frenzy. When speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Jose earlier this month a reporter asked Professor Roy-Chowdhury for some samples of their data.  His assistant provided the reporter with a full file of research results – including the study of Anne Boleyn. Despite the results had been rejected by the research team as being inconclusive, the journalist was able to concoct a story out of the slim data, and this went on to be reported in newspapers across the world.

To demonstrate their point The Sydney Morning Herald featured my reconstruction of the Moost Happi medal spliced with an image of the Nidd Hall portrait .  This was repeated in other Australian other newspapers, again without citing me as the sculptor of this image. Alison Weir and Susan Bordo were contacted by reporters and both kindly directed them to me with regards to the featured medal. However I was away from my computer yesterday and without phone coverage and so missed the opportunity to set the record straight.

If you would like to know more about the Moost Happi medal and my reconstruction of Anne’s features can read my report here: https://lucychurchill.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/the-moost-happi-portrait-of-anne-boleyn-a-rec/

To see the article in The Sydney Morning Herald featuring the spliced image of my Moost Happi medal reconstruction and the Nidd Hall portrait see: http://www.smh.com.au/world/anne-boleyn-portrait-facial-recognition-technology-verifies-nidd-hall-image-20150216-13ftef.html

An index of the carved imagery on the Choir Screen at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge

Here is my systematic list of the imagery of the choir screen at King’s College Chapel,Cambridge.  I am happy to offer this painstaking labour of love as a record for further study and as a guide for visitors to the chapel.

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I compiled this index during the course of my own research into the little-studied carvings. The screen is studded with ornate symbolism celebrating the union of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. However, the carvings include one disturbing image of a strung-up head, screaming in agony (see photos accompanying Index, below). Time and time again I heard official Chapel guides relate to visitors that this gruesome image represented the fate of Henry VIII’s wife, Anne Boleyn, who was beheaded on the charge of adultery. However this is a strange and contradictory fancy given that the screen was believed to have been commissioned to celebrate their marriage.

Whilst many of the carvings proclaim their union, my suggestion is that the screen as a whole is actually an elaborate announcement of Henry and Anne’s Divine Right to rule over the Church of England, and a thinly-veiled, menacing threat to those who oppose their will.

My analysis of the decorative motifs was published in Oxford University Press’s ‘Notes and Queries’. The paper can be read here:
‘A re-appraisal of the iconography of the choir screen at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge’
Notes and Queries (2014) doi: 10.1093/notesj/gju012
First published online: April 16, 2014
Oxford University Press Journals

My analysis of the choir screen is cited in the 500th anniversary book King’s College Chapel 1515 – 2015

Download a PDF of my Index of Imagery:  LucyChurchillsChoirScreenIndex2013

An Index of the Imagery on the King’s College Choir Screen.
The index begins with the West Face of the screen, working systematically from North to South, left to right, top to bottom.

Left (North) side, West Face of screen
Bay 1
Pilaster:  Classical decoration, includes bull’s skull with male cherub
Coving upper left:  Space filled by stonework
Coving left:  HR under imperial crown
Coving upper right:  Tudor rose under imperial crown
Coving right:  Cipher – HRExAS  (Henry Rex, Sovereign Anne), under imperial crown Coving center:  Tudor rose under imperial crown
Upper frieze:  Classical decoration, includes fleur-de-lis
Tympanum:  Shield with RA, under imperial crown
Spandrel, left:  Classical head
Spandrel, right:  Classical head
Lower frieze:  Roundel, man pointing to right
Central panel, above:  Inscription – DIEU ET MON DROIT (‘God and my right shall me defend’). (Fig 1)
Central panel roundel:  HR under imperial crown
Central panel, below:  Roundel.  Man wearing a cowl (worn by monks) with a cabbage on his head. Since the mid-15th century ‘cabbage head’ was a term for an obstinate idiot, this was therefore a mocking jibe. (French Robert Dictionary: ‘cabus’, ‘caboche’ Old French for head (of cabbage); nitwit, blockhead). (Fig 2)

1b1 1 & 2

Bay 2
Pilaster:  Classical decoration
Coving upper left:  Tudor rose under imperial crown
Coving left:  Fleur-de-lis under imperial crown
Coving upper right:  Tudor rose under imperial crown
Coving right:  Fleur-de-lis under imperial crown
Coving center:  Tudor rose under imperial crown
Upper frieze:  Classical decoration, includes portcullis
Tympanum:  Henry VIII’s coat of arms under imperial crown
Spandrel, left:  Tudor rose
Spandrel, right:
  Tudor rose
Frieze:  Roundel, Classical man’s head with classical decoration
Central panel, above:  Inscription – SOLA SALUS SERVIRE DEO (‘Our only salvation is in serving God’)
Central panel roundel:  HR under imperial crown
Central panel, below:  Traditional decorative motif – body armour with weapons

Bay 3
Pilaster:  Classical decoration, includes Green Man.  Despite their pagan origins, Green Men were a popular decorative device during the Protestant Reformation and were used on the frontispieces of many Lutheran tracts.
Coving upper left:  Tudor rose under imperial crown
Coving left:  HR under imperial crown
Coving upper right:  Tudor rose under imperial crown
Coving right:  HR under imperial crown
Coving center:  Tudor rose under imperial crown
Tympanum:  Henry VIII’s coat of arms under imperial crown
Upper frieze:  Classical decoration, includes fleur-de-lis
Spandrel, left:  Angel’s head
Spandrel, right:  Classical head
Frieze:  Fleur-de-lis (no roundel) flanked by Tudor roses
Central panel, above:  Inscription – Henri CVS 8 (Henry VIII, in an unusual combination of English and Latin lettering with an Arabic numeral)
Central panel roundel:  HR under imperial crown
Central panel, below:  Traditional decorative motif – body armour with weapons Pilaster:  Classical decoration

Central archway from nave to altar (leading from the West Face to the East Face) Left (North) side
Coving upper left: 
 Tudor rose
Coving left:  HR under imperial crown
Coving upper right:  Tudor rose
Coving right:  HR under imperial crown
Coving center:  Tudor rose under imperial crown
Spandrel, left:  Classical head in roundel

Right (South) side
Coving upper left:
  Anne’s falcon on a flowering Tudor rose bush, under an imperial crown
Coving left:
  HA cipher. Eric Ives noted the ‘curiously formed letter ‘A’, with a stroke through the apex and the normal horizontal stroke written as a ‘V’… Writing the letter ‘A’ in this way also creates the letters ‘T’ and ‘M’, so making the Latin ‘amat’ (‘loves’). The whole therefore means either ‘[Henry] loves A[nne]’ or ‘A[nne] loves [Henry]’, or both’. See Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, p. 243. (Fig 3)
Coving upper right:  Anne’s falcon on a flowering Tudor rose bush, under an imperial crown
Coving right:  HA cipher, as above
Coving center:  Anne’s falcon crest under imperial crown
Spandrel, right:  Classical head in roundel, with a bull’s skull in lower spandrel. This image, found repeatedly on the screen, is a visual on the name Boleyn (sometimes written Bullen).

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Central doors from nave to altar
Pevsner wrote that the woodwork ‘is of an especially high order, and the detail is entirely in accordance with the side panels. Yet the door carries the cipher C.R. and the date 1636,’ concluding that they must be ‘an extremely early case of period imitation.’
Top half:  Partially-pierced fretwork with an English shield flanked by a lion and a unicorn in front of a flowering rosebush. Date 1636 on left door.
Bottom half:  Symbols of harmony and fruitfulness, with one exception; the monk with a cabbage head (roundel on left door) is a reversed repeat of the roundel in Bay 1. This is a curious inclusion if this section of the screen was carved a century later.

Right (South) side, West Face of screen
Bay 4

Pilaster: Classical decoration, with bull’s skull at top
Coving upper left:  Tudor rose
Coving left:  Portcullis under imperial crown
Coving upper right:  Tudor rose
Coving right:  Portcullis under imperial crown
Coving center:  Tudor rose under imperial crown
Upper frieze:  Classical decoration, with fleur-de-lis
Tympanum:  HR under imperial crown
Spandrel, left:  Flower
Spandrel, right:  Classical head
Lower frieze:  Roundel,  with a classical man’s head
Central panel, above:  Decorative motif
Central panel roundel:  HR under imperial crown
Central panel, below: A head held up by loops of be-ribboned hair, face distorted in agony (Fig 4).  It has long been suggested that the carving depicts the punishment of an adulterous woman (in reference to Anne Boleyn’s alleged crime – for which she was beheaded in 1536), but I suggest that it more plausibly represents Absalom, the rebellious son of King David.  For the Bible’s description of Absalom’s appearance and fate see:
2 Samuel 14:25-26, 2 Samuel 15:1-6, 2 Samuel 18:9-15).
4 24 & 5

Bay 5
Pilaster:  Classical decoration, with Green Man (Fig 5)
Coving upper left:  Anne’s falcon on a flowering Tudor rose bush
Coving left:  Cipher – HRExAS  (Henry Rex, Sovereign Anne) , under imperial crown Coving upper right:  Anne’s falcon on a flowering Tudor rose bush
Coving  right: Cipher – HRExAS  (Henry Rex, Sovereign Anne) , under imperial crown Coving center:  Anne’s falcon crest under imperial crown, between Tudor roses (Fig 6)
Upper frieze:  Male figure with staff, pointing to God below  (Fig 6)
Tympanum:  A high-relief carving of God surrounded by cherubs, directing sinners downwards.  In the background carved in very low relief is a classical temple with steps.  Pevsner named this depiction ‘the Descent of the Rebel Angels’ (The Buildings of England, 88).  (Fig 7)

5 66 & 7
Spandrel, left:  Classical head
Spandrel, right:  Portcullis
Lower frieze:  Roundel, with a man pointing to the right
Central panel, above:  Decorative motif
Central panel roundel: HR under imperial crown
Central panel, below:  Green Man motif with classical armory.
Pilaster:  Classical decoration, with Green Man and Green Ram
Coving upper left:  Classical decoration
Coving left:  Fleur-de-lis under imperial crown
Coving upper right:  Classical decoration
Coving right:  Fleur-de-lis under imperial crown
Coving center: Tudor rose under imperial crown
Upper frieze:  Classical decoration, with baby’s head
Tympanum:  Anne Boleyn’s heraldic arms as Royal Consort under an imperial crown Spandrel, left:  Floral design
Spandrel, right:  Floral design
Lower frieze: Roundel, with female head. See Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, plate 35. (Fig 8)
Central panel, above:  Bull’s head (Fig 9)
Central panel roundel:  HR under imperial crown
Central panel, below:  Decorative motif of classical helmet
Pilaster:  Classical decoration
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8 (2)9

Above the ground floor panels
A parapet running the length of the screen with friezes, balusters, arched panels and two arched recesses containing high-relief carved male figures. The man on the left is naked except for a loose sheet.  He is seen from behind as if in retreat and appears to look up at the figure above the organ pipes.  The figure on the right, by contrast, is richly attired in possibly contemporary dress, and faces forwards.

Above the organ pipes
In the centre is a three-dimensional sculpture of King David holding a harp.  On the outer curves of the organ pipes are two mighty angels blowing horns. Because the existing organ was installed in 1605 it is unclear how, or if, the figure of King David was attached to the choir screen when the screen was installed in the 1530s. However, Pevsner refers to a carving on the screen of King David dating ‘from the time of Henry VIII’.The depiction of King David is very similar to that on the frontispiece of Coverdale’s English Bible (1535), with a noted difference; his lower robes appear more Tudor than biblical in style.  This could be an important example of the transition of Henry VIII’s philosophy which culminated in his depiction as King David in his illuminated psalter (c.1541, now British Library).

Central Archway
This leads from the West Face of the screen to the altar and is wide enough to support the organ above. Internal doors to the North and South lead to the organ loft. Pevsner noted that the decorated ceiling was a ‘memorably early’ example of Tudor plaster work.

East Face of screen
Four return stalls behind a raised parapet, on either side of the central archway. The coats of arms decorating the backs of the stalls on the North and South walls were added later, in 1633. However, the decorations on the East Face of the screen are contemporary with the West Face, and bear many examples of Henry and Anne’s insignia.

Left (South) side, East Face of screen
There are four stalls with seating. The first three stalls are smaller and much less ornamented than the last, which is the Provost’s Stall.

Pilaster decorations and frieze panels above the four seats: RA (in the ‘amat’ form that Eric Ives noted) under an imperial crown, classical man, HR, portcullis, RA (in the ‘amat’ form) under an imperial crown, an imperial crown held by angels on either side, HR, shield with HRExAS . This last is directly above the Provost’s seat.

On the parapet in front of the stall desks are three-dimensional figures and heraldic beasts: Griffin holding a shield with RA (in the ‘amat’ form) Lion holding an empty shield Lion holding a shield with HR Greyhound holding an empty shield.

The Provost’s stall
Coving upper left:  H
Coving upper center:  HR under imperial crown
Coving upper right:  A
Coving center from left to right:  Fleur-de-lis under imperial crown, HR under imperial crown, floral boss, HA under imperial crown, Fleur-de-lis under imperial crown.
Coving lower left:  H
Coving lower center:  A cross, flanked by floral decoration
Coving lower right:  R
Tympanum:  A high-relief depiction of God. It appears as if he is pointing with one finger upward to Heaven – and to Henry and Anne’s initials directly above. However, the other fingers have been broken off and it is likely that two of the fingers would have pointed upwards in a gesture of benediction.  (Fig 10)
Spandrel, left:  Empty
Spandrel, right:  Empty
9 10

Central panel, upper section, Provost’s stall
Two naked, muscular men reclined on the roundel’s frame. The man on the left holds a pronged staff entwined with two snakes (Fig 11). The snake-entwined staff could represent the Old Testament story of Aaron and the supremacy of his faith over that of the Pharaohs (Exodus 7), or it might refer to the classical god Hermes. His staff, Caduceus, symbolised an eloquent messenger and was therefore used as a printer’s mark in the 16th century. This might therefore refer to the support that Henry and Anne gave to the proliferation of translations of the Bible.

101111 & 12

The Herculean man on the right clenches either several animals in his fist or else one creature with several heads  (Fig 12). The fact that he points with his right hand to the one in his left hand indicates that the symbolism is significant, although obscure to the modern viewer. One possible explanation is that the delicately-featured animals might be ermine, and therefore indicate an aggressive stance towards the Church of Rome. Ermine was linked to the Papacy because the animal had come to represent purity, and since the 12th century had been used by Popes to trim their red caps and capes.

9a13
Central panel, roundel, Provost’s stall
A dramatic, high-relief carving with intensely modelled and elongated forms that appear more Mannerist in style than Renaissance (Pevsner made this comment when pointing out the rider’s billowing cape that flows over the roundel’s frame) (Fig 13). A rearing horse is depicted, whose armoured rider raises his right hand (now broken off, as is the horse’s right hoof) to strike a strange dragon-like beast writhing below. The creature has a muscular, human-like torso, four stunted limbs ending in webbed feet, a long neck, and small fantastical wings. In the background, carved in shallow relief, is an elegant palace or city displaying many towers. Though battles with dragons are mentioned several times in the Bible, it seems highly likely that the rider portrayed here is St George (and not St Michael, or the slayer of the Fourth Beast in the Book of Daniel). On the breastplate of the horse is a horned skull – possibly that of a bull, in reference to Anne Boleyn.

Central panel, lower section, Provost’s stall
A naked woman, loosely draped, reclines in a landscape (Fig 14). A child suckles at her breast while another tugs fearfully on her arm. A tablet is lying by her feet. In the distance a third child is being eaten by a lion (Fig 15).  The significance of this disturbing image is not obvious to the modern viewer. The signage at King’s College Chapel says: ‘Below is [St George’s wife] Sabra who has just borne three boys, one of whom is being carried off by a lion. This romantic addition to the legend was current in the 16th century.’ However, further research is advisable as I have been unable to find any mention of the saint having children.
1414
15 15
The quantity of detail and the three-dimensionality of the carving in this bay set it apart from those on the west face of the screen, as do the subjects depicted. The placing of these vivid images at the Provost’s seat indicates that the topics were of high importance. I suggest that the iconography, not just in the roundel but that of the figures above and below, should be further investigated.   At present their significance, and how they relate to the iconography on the west face, is unclear.

Below central panel, Provost’s stall
Lower frieze:
 Cipher – HRExAS (Henry Rex, Sovereign Anne) (Fig 16)
DSCN928216

Right (North) side, East Face of screen
There are four stalls, the first being larger and with more ornate coving than the other three Stall 1
Coving left:
  HR
Coving upper center:  HR
Coving center:  Tudor rose
Coving right:  HA

Stalls 2- 4 Coving decorations: Tudor rose, HR in a shield, Tudor rose

Pilaster decorations and frieze panels above the four seats:
HA (in the  ‘amat’ form) in a shield, HR, fleur-de-lis, RA (in the  ‘amat’ form) under an imperial crown, portcullis, HR, fleur-de-lis, RA (in the  ‘amat’ form) under an imperial crown

On the parapet in front of the stall desks are three-dimensional figures and heraldic beasts:
Griffin holding an empty shield
Lion holding a shield with HR
Greyhound holding a shield with HR (Fig 17)
Griffin with a crown and chain around his neck, holding a shield with RA (in the ‘amat’ form)(Fig 18)
15a 1617 & 18

Photographs of the screen are included by the permission of the Provost and Scholars of King’s College Cambridge

Lucy Churchill, Cambridge, December 2013

Download a PDF of this index:  LucyChurchillsChoirScreenIndex2013          
See examples of my own carvings here: www.lucychurchill.com

The ‘Moost Happi’ portrait of Anne Boleyn: A reconstruction by Lucy Churchill

   Anneboleynaligned

‘Lucy Churchill’s reconstruction of The Moost Happi portrait medal is the best image we are ever likely to have of Anne Boleyn.’
Professor David Starkey, CBE

‘Lucy Churchill’s brilliant achievement has brought us as close to the real Anne Boleyn  as we shall ever be able to get.’
Professor Eric Ives, OBE
Author of ‘The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy’

‘Through meticulous research Lucy Churchill has created an authentic replica of the medal of Anne Boleyn, as it would have looked originally.  A must for anyone interested in Anne Boleyn!’
Alison Weir

Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, was beheaded at his command on the 19th May 1536.  Though much has been written about her since then, very few indisputable facts about her life remain.  Even her date of birth and her appearance is the subject of speculation.  The paintings of her that are still in existence, were painted during Queen Elizabeth’s reign and cannot be relied upon as a true record.  There are two sketches by Holbein that were subsequently labelled with her name, but  this increases the confusion as they depict two very different sitters.

The only undisputed portrait of Anne Boleyn is on a 38mm lead disc, is in storage at the British Museum. Known as ‘The Moost Happi medal’ it was made as a prototype in 1534, in anticipation of the birth of a male heir.  However, the pregnancy was unsuccessful and the commission was abandoned.  Anne’s position as Queen of England became less assured thereafter. 

1aoriginal_anne_boleyn_moost_happi_medal_british_museum 

Although the medal is acknowledged as the only contemporary portrayal of Anne Boleyn, its value is often overlooked. The softness of the lead has allowed some of the details to be compressed and eroded, especially those areas which were the most raised such as her nose and forehead.  Historian G.W.Bernard states that “the medal is consequently not that helpful as an indication of her appearance”  (1). 

Reconstruction

My interest in Anne Boleyn had grown over the last few years, since having chanced on a biography of Henry VIII.  Initially I was appalled by the seeming awfulness of his second wife, and was motivated to research her character in greater depth.  I found the available evidence to be tantalisingly contradictory, and desperately wanted to know more.

My professional background is as a stonecarver, specialised in making carefully researched reconstructions for restoration projects.  I looked at images of the medal and saw that though damaged, it still held a wealth of information.  Out of my own curiosity, I decided to rebuild these features and thereby give a face once again to Anne Boleyn.

I was given access to the medal at the British Museum and, wearing protective gloves, I was able to examine it under close magnification.  I recorded my observations in detailed notes and annotated sketches.  I felt very privileged to be so close to an object which may have been handled by Anne herself, and was extremely excited by my findings.

Back in my workshop I scaled up a front-on photograph of the medal to four times its original size. I traced every visible detail to make a layout which then gave me the accurate dimensions to work from. Using a needle I pricked along every line in the layout to transfer the design onto a wax disc, and  modelled the different contours of relief form based on my notes and sketches.

2a_annotated_sketch_of_anne_boleyn_medal

It was a technically difficult task.  I needed strong light to work by and this caused the wax to soften.  This meant that  the areas that I had already completed were vulnerable as my hands hovered above, working on a different area.  This problem was resolved by putting the model into the freezer every time the wax  became too soft.  I was full of admiration for the skill of original artist who worked on a smaller scale, without decent lighting or magnification.

3anneboleynmedalworkinprogress

Reproduction

With great care I took the wax model  to leading  mold-maker, Steve Cole of Articole Studios, so that it could be recreated in a more durable material.  He coated it in silicon rubber to make a negative form from which further copies could be cast with great accuracy.

When I saw the first plaster copy I fretted over minor details and decided to rework these.  Keeping the original plaster prototype, I got Steve to make a second copy which I then refined using tiny engraving tools.  From this a second mold was made and cast.  The features of the second version were more delicate, but refining them gave the medal a Classical appearance.   I decided to stick with the first version as the immediacy of  the modelling was closer in spirit to a 16th century artifact.

The medal considered in a wider context.

Having studied the medal in great depth at the British Museum,  and reconstructed the details myself,  I recognised elements in the medal depicted in paintings of the other wives of Henry VIII.  The best comparison is  Holbein’s portrait of Anne’s successor, Jane Seymour.    Within Holbein’s portrait we can see the same diagonally woven cloth of the headdress that is in the medal.  The sequence of jewels on the gable hood, and in the necklace is the same.  The necklace is also depicted in portraits of his subsequent queens (2).

4a_janeseymour_holbein_portrait_with_pearl_and_jewel_necklace

The fact that the details of the queens attire appear to have been reproduced so precisely in the ‘Moost Happi medal’ suggests that the portrait was made with considerable skill and attention to detail.  My view is that, despite the damage to some parts of the portrait, it retains a wealth of information.  That  the costume is so well depicted suggests that the features of the face are likely to have  been equally well observed.

One could argue that the medal sculptor might have had longer access to the costume than to the queen herself. However, Anne Boleyn was known to have been fastidious about the presentation of her image (3), and I do not believe that her features would have been recorded carelessly.

In summary,  we can deduce that Anne Boleyn clearly had a long face with high cheek bones, and a prominent chin.  Though Anne Boleyn wasn’t considered a beauty in her time, the medal presents an image of strong and sensual femininity.
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For further discussion of Anne’s appearance in relation to the portrait medal see the following Huffington Post article: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/susan-bordo-/anne-boleyn_b_4737660.html?just_reloaded=1&utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false#sb=1362201b=facebook

See below for References and to see the gable hood / necklace worn by Anne Boleyn in the Moost Happi medal worn in the portraits of Henry VIII’s other wives.

Individually made bronze resin copies of my reconstruction are available to purchase through my website: www.lucychurchill.com.

1_anne_boleyn_medal_gwill_shot

Elements of the costume worn by Anne in the Moost Happi portrait medal can be found in the following paintings:
1560 Catherine of Aragon by English school1 catherine_of_aragon with 4pearl and jewel combo plus cross.2 Katherine of Aragon with  Moost Happi billiment
1-3: Catherine of Aragon
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(NB: the pattern of the jewels on the billiment of the  gable hood, the top two depictions of the jewels bordering the dress, and the cross, here worn as a brooch).

5aAnn Boleyn Nidd Hall portrait with pearl and jewel necklace 4a JaneSeymour Holbein portrait with pearl and jewel necklace
2: Left, The ‘Nidd Hall’ portrait of Anne Boleyn, which might be a reworked painting of Jane Seymour.
(NB: the necklace).
3: Right, Jane Seymour.
(NB: the jewels on the gable hood billiment, dress adornment and the necklace).

6 Katherine Howard Holbein miniature  with pearl and jewel necklace
4: Catherine Howard.
(NB: the necklace).

7a Catherine Parr National Portrtait Gallery8 Lady_Jane_Grey_portrait now thought to be Catherine Parr
5-6: Katherine Parr.
(NB: the necklace).

References:
(1)
Anne Boleyn – Fatal Attractions, Appendix, page 196.
(2) The Gable Hood and accompanying dress first appear in portraits of Catherine of Aragon, with the matching cross worn as a brooch. The cross, worn by Anne Boleyn in the medal as a pendant, is replaced by pendant with two jewels above a suspended pearl drop. (Worn by Jane Seymour  and Catherine Howard, both in portraits by Holbein, and by Anne Boleyn in the Nidd Hall portrait – although it has been suggested that the painting was of  Jane Seymour, and reworked to satisfy Elizabethan demand).

A pendant with  a three jewels and a pearl drop adorns the familiar necklace in painting of Catherine Parr and Lady Jane Grey.   However, as it is unlikely that Lady Jane Grey would have had access to these jewels during her short reign, the portraits have lately been reattributed to Catherine Parr. See Nidd Hall Portrait of Anne Boleyn, Holbein’s portrait of Catherine Howard, Melton Constable portrait of Catherine Parr, and portrait once attributed as Lady Jane Grey, below.
(3) See Eric Ives “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, ‘Image’chap 15, and ‘Art and Taste’ chap 16.