1902 Encyclopedia > Sculpture > English Sculpture - 13th Century; Architectural Sculpture.

(Part 5)

English Sculpture - 13th Century; Architectural Sculpture.

Much of the fine 13th-century sculpture was used to decorate the fagades of churches. The grandest example is the west end of Wells cathedral, of about the middle of the century. It is covered with more than 600 figures in the round or in relief, arranged in tiers, and of varying sizes. The tympana of the doorways are filled with reliefs, and above them stand rows of colossal statues of kings and queens, bishops and knights, and saints both male and
female, all treated very skilfully with nobly arranged drapery, and graceful heads designed in a thoroughly architectonic way, with due regard to the main lines of the building they are meant to decorate. In this respect the early mediaeval sculptor inherited one of the great merits of the Greeks of the best period : his figures or reliefs form an essential part of the design of the building to which they are affixed, and are treated in a subordinate manner to their architectural surroundings—very different from the sculpture on modern buildings, which usually looks as if it had been stuck up as an afterthought, and frequently by its violent and incongruous lines is rather an impertinent excrescence than an ornament. Peter- borough, Lichfield, and Salisbury cathedrals have fine examples of the sculpture of the 13th century : in the chapter-house of the last the spandrels of the wall-arcade are filled with sixty reliefs of subjects from Bible history, all treated with much grace and refinement. To the end of the same century belong the celebrated reliefs of angels in the spandrels of the choir arches at Lincoln, carved in a large massive way with great strength of decorative effect. Other fine reliefs of angels, executed about 1260, exist in the transepts of Westminster Abbey; being high from the ground, they are broadly treated without any high finish in the details


559-1 The sculpture on the new Paris opera-house is a striking instance of this ; and so, in a small way, are the statues in the new reredos of Westminster Abbey and Gloucester cathedral.

559-2 On the whole, Westminster possesses the most completely representative collection of English mediaeval sculpture in an unbroken succession from the 13th to the 16th century.

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