Updated: Dec 24, 2019
I have graduated from carving to painting with the first piece in the "Medieval Effigies" project.
The man here is Sir Robert de Septvans (d. 1306), one of the knights of the Shire of Kent for
Edward I. The reference image I am using is a rubbing taken from the original brass monument. The monuments themselves, being etched, flat surfaces, lend themselves perfectly to this low-tech technique of reproduction, and yield black and white images that are, in fact, more clear than the brass work.
On the left is an example of such a brass rubbing, which involves simply placing a sheet of paper over the monument and then rubbing it with charcoal.
This being the first in a planned group of similar pieces, it has been an exploration of possibilities for creative interpretation through sculpting relief, as well as the introduction of colour. In both cases, however, the aim is to be faithful to the overall impression of the original. One quality I have settled on is to strive for a kind of hybrid between bas relief and the original planar work (delineated with etching). As you may be able to discern from the photograph, the latter can be seen in the chain mail, and the former in the face and surcoat.
A striking feature of many monuments is the depiction of an animal beneath the feet of the figure. My limited research suggests that this is a device to convey something of the individual's personality. I hope to do more research on this, but to my mind- especially with the often-seen image of a lion- the symbolism of Psalm 91 is evoked: Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk: and thou shalt trample under foot the lion and the dragon.
This of course presents the promise of dominion over spiritual adversaries, such as personal demons, or one's "animal" nature. On a cosmic level, it also evokes the image of Our Lady crushing the the head of the serpent.
The name "Septvans" means "seven fans". Fittingly, the surcoat, ailettes and shield are charged with winnowing fans (see right). This image is thought to symbolize the process of purification (the separation of the figurative wheat from the chaff). Speculating about the number seven in this regard, I wonder if there is an allusion to the seven deadly sins, which (if overcome) make room for the seven contrary virtues.