Monday, 22 December 2014

More thoughts on fonts and on visiting them.

I've been reading 'Mawming and Mooning' by Bob Trubshaw, which is free to download from the  Heart of Albion website. He bemoans 'explanationism' of medieval church carvings - simplistic explanations. But here's one he liked:
Where the heads are in the 'four corners' [of a font] (if a round bowl can be thought to have 'corners'), as at Greetham, then for once we do have a fairly reliable idea of what they were intended to denote. They were the four rivers of Paradise. On the face of things this seems as arbitrary as the four humours or the four cardinal directions. But the rite of purification for the water to be used for baptism is based on Genesis 2:10 which refers to the four rivers of Paradise (viz. Phison, Gehon, Tigris and Euphrates). More specifically, it refers to the sources of these rivers - their headwaters. And, in the Vulgate Latin of twelfth century bibles, the word for the headwaters of a river is capita. Think of the modern word 'decapitated', from the Latin caput and the word-play (or perhaps simple misunderstanding) becomes obvious.
This reminded me of the square font at Steeple Langford, with the two faces at its corners (and probably space for two more now destroyed).

Steeple Langford's amazing Norman font

But to be honest, we've seen a lot of fonts now. And I can't think of another example at all. If faces were regularly in the corners, the theory would seem like more of a goer. It does make some sense. But to be honest, how many carvers spoke Latin and would have got the joke? I can't see the priests commissioning the work making an explanation of it. Now I've thought it through I'm not convinced at all.

It's strange, on one hand you've got the 'everything's craftily pagan' explanationism of some writers, and then the very straight-laced Record It Like This attitude of the Corpus of Romanesque sculpture. Mr Trubshaw does take a very broad view. And where do I sit? I think it just makes me want to continue in my own vein, discovering the sculptures through drawing them. I can't compete with Mr Trubshaw or the Corpus researchers.

It makes me happy just to visit these sculptures, I don't need to explain them and I'm not sure it'll ever be possible to make definitive statements on them without time travel. With work and coursework there's been a dismaying lack of visits since the end of September - until Monkton Farleigh. But I truly hope to get out and about in the Spring. The arrival of midwinter and a break from work have given me hope.

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