Sunday, 2 August 2015

Kempley, Gloucestershire

Someone at the roadmap company chose to mark this. So I'm not sure it was really where we were aiming for, but as the brown roadsigns started appearing, I started following them. And after much windiness of road we ended up at St Mary's, Kempley. Our quarry was the lovely 'tree of life' tympanum pictured above. As the ancient structure of the porch obscured the view (see Nicholas Kaye's photo), we had to stand very close and crane our necks back (another of Mr Kaye's photos here shows what we were up against). I really believe that the design (as well as I could make out) was as wonky as above. So it's interesting to see the nearby unobscured tympanum at Dymock on the CRSBI website because it's so similar, but not wonky. I think I prefer the asymmetrical one really... it's one of those characteristic things the connoisseur of Norman carvings looks forward to :)

Inside the church was a rare treat - in fact, "one of the most outstandingly complete and well preserved sets of medieval wall paintings in England" according to its caretaker, English Heritage. Simon Jenkins goes even further: "the most complete set of Romanesque frescos in northern Europe".

Retrospectively it's interesting to see how the painting of the underside of the chancel arch echoes the carved detail we saw beneath the arch on our later visit to Marden.

Kempley also makes you wonder how colourful any number of these places were originally. Though it seems quite strange and crowded to the modern eye - like the Elgin / Parthenon marbles, we've become used to the stark minimalist look of the churches and sculptures being unpainted.

Perhaps I didn't appreciate the frescos as much as I should: a combination of turning up not particularly prepared, plus being surrounded by Other People - the latter being most unusual and strangely off-putting. You need a special sort of quiet to want to get your sketchbook out. But I'm glad other Romanesque fans were out in force that day (really).

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