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Funeral Monuments in Post-Reformation England. (Reviews).

Nigel Llewellyn. Funeral Monuments in Post-Reformation England

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. xxviii + 471 pp. $120. ISBN: 0-521-78257-0.

In the wake of the Henrican reform, altar pieces, statues, and rood screens were suppressed as idolatrous "images." Yet between the l530s and the Restoration as many as five thousand funeral monuments were erected in churches throughout the realm. Of these, by the author's estimate, some four thousand survive. Like a latter-day Camden or Weever surveying the antiquities of Britain, Llewellyn has spent twenty years compiling the evidence, including more than two hundred examples illustrated here.

Llewellyn focuses on sculpted monuments, typically the ensemble of an architectural frame, an effigy of the deceased, a heraldic sign, and a written inscription.

Chapters on "Form and Design" and on "Building Monuments" offer a wealth of detail about costs, contracts, materials (alabaster, brass, various marbles, oak), and the quarrying and carriage of stone, as well as about composition, allegorical motifs, and the decorative techniques of carving, gilding, and painting. Maps and charts indicate the distribution of monuments across the land. The interest, however, lies primarily in the changing significance of the funeral monument under the cross pressures of the Reformation: "The monuments were not art objects born into a tolerant, static world but culturally dynamic and powerfully ritualized signs which aroused fear, envy, suspicion, and admiration" (253).

Reform brought with it both casual and, at times, programmatic attacks on funeral monuments. Some effigies suffered ritual mutilation: the loss of a finger or a nose. Inscriptions such as orate pro nobis were effaced as encouraging superstitious acts of intercession and prayer for the dead. But a royal proclamation of 1560, part of the Elizabethan settlement, emphasized their archival value. Defacing tombs would "darken" the "true understanding of divers Families in this Realm (who have descended of the blood of the same persons deceased)" (218). Several generations of the deceased's family were often represented in effigy on the monument, whose inscriptions provided detailed (if sometimes spurious) genealogies. Antiquaries thus sought to preserve funeral monuments as important historical records, while heralds regarded inscriptions and armorial insignia as crucial evidence in establishing genealogical claims.

Specifying the role of monuments in stabilizing and legitimating a new political order is part of a larger argument about their increasingly secular importance. Post-Reformation death is for the living, not for the dead. No longer the site of a sacred communion with, and for the sake of the dead, monuments now figured the survival, in effigy, of the politic body of the deceased. In 1569 Sir Thomas Rowe stipulated that after his death a kneeling stone effigy be set in his place "in the Chappell on the South syde of the Quyer ... where I have comonly sytt" (48). Often monuments were erected while the patron was still alive, thus further emphasizing the continuity of life and death in a society anxious about dynastic succession. In estate churches (as well as, more illustriously, in Westminster Abbey) monuments to the noble dead occupied and defined a social space, ranked not only by their size and the richness of their materials but by their location: those situated within the chancel rail, for example, held th e most desirable "place" since the congregation facing the high altar would have them constantly in view.

For the iconoclast, a "gendered evil" lurked within the image, which held a perilous sensual allure for the eye of unwary. But if monuments "were dangerous through their visuality, such danger was contained by their setting within the hierarchies of order and the male rhetoric of heraldry, lineage, and the word" (242-3). Always subject to the charge of vanity in their desire for magnificent monuments, patrons came to prefer unlifelike poses and non-polychromatic effigies in order to avert the suspicion of creating a "painted" image. But, as Llewellyn's final chapter argues, the function of the monument as a "notable example" that saves it from being (in Wotton's words) a "bare and transitory entertainment of the Eye" (243). Women were commemorated as exemplifying the prudence, modesty, obedience and fecundity that were the virtues of their sex, and men for their bravery and service to the state. Just as the post-Reformation monument loses much of its sacred function and comes instead to "keep alive" the civil honor of the patron, so in an age of "new men," there is a corresponding shift in emphasis from blood lineage to individual virtue.

At $120 this volume is a costly hybrid between a monograph and an art book. As Llewellyn admits, the illustrations are often too murky to serve as a definitive photographic record, since many examples had to be shot from awkward positions and under imperfect lighting conditions. As the author also notes, his classification excludes perhaps thousands of other less imposing or less durable monuments such as plaques in wood or brass, an emphasis that inevitably favors the prosperous dead. The one unpardonable sin, however, is the author's failure, somewhere in his 471 pages on church monuments, to acknowledge George Herbert's magnificent poem of the same name.
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Author:Gilman, Ernest B.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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