Other news: Issue 14, November 2014

A new research project: precious-metal effigial tomb monuments in medieval Europe up to c.1430 - Sophie Oosterwijk

In May 2014 Sophie Oosterwijk presented a new research project at the international conference on medieval copper, bronze and brass in Namur (Belgium) with a paper entitled 'Copper alloy tombs in medieval Europe: image and identity'. Together with Sally Badham, she is conducting a survey of extant and lost medieval effigial tomb monuments made of different types of metal, ranging from copper alloy (often termed 'bronze') to silver and silver gilt. (They previously co-edited the volume Monumental industry. The production of tomb sculpture in England and Wales in the long fourteenth century, Donington: Shaun Tyas, 2010.) In turn Sally Badham presented the project with a paper entitled 'Copper-alloy tombs in Europe to c.1430' at the Church Monuments Society symposium in Canterbury in September 2014.

Copper alloy tombs came in different varieties. They could be cast or plated, gilt, silvered, or enamelled, and also decorated with (semi-)precious stones; flat metal memorials (brasses) are excluded from this project. The material was clearly chosen to indicate wealth and power: bronze was associated with antiquity. The earliest example appears to be the copper-alloy tomb effigy in low relief in Merseburg Cathedral (Germany), commemorating the anti-king Rudolph of Rheinfelden, duke of Swabia, who was killed after a battle with the troops of Emperor Henry IV in 1080. Rudolph's tomb was followed by a number of episcopal tombs, including two at Magdeburg Cathedral commemorating Archbishop Friedrich von Wettin (d. 1152) and one of his successors, probably Wichmann von Seeburg (d. 1192). Several later examples survive at Augsburg, Meissen, LŁbeck, Cologne and Einbeck. The current survey comprises a total of eleven German examples, all but one extant, but many more must have been destroyed.

The largest number of such tombs was probably created in France, where they were in vogue among the aristocracy, the clergy and royalty. However, most were melted down in the sixteenth century during the Wars of Religion and in the later eighteenth century before or during the French Revolution. Of sixty-nine known French examples, only nine remain, which vividly illustrates the extent of losses. Only one gilt and enamelled copper-alloy tomb survives in Spain: located in the choir of Burgos Cathedral, it commemorates Bishop Mauricio (d. 1238 or 1240). Two more recorded Spanish examples are the cast copper-alloy monuments to Thibaut IV, count of Champagne (d. 1253), and his son Henry (d. 1274) at Pamplona Cathedral, but these appear to have been destroyed as early as 1276. A single Portuguese example is the spectacular gilt cast copper-alloy monument in Braga Cathedral to the young Prince Afonso (1390-1400), eldest son of King Jo„o I of Portugal (1358-1433) and his English wife Philippa of Lancaster. Another striking single survival is the joint monument to King Christopher II of Denmark (d. 1332) and his wife Euphemia of Pomerania (d. 1330) in the church of the Cistercian abbey in SorÝ on the island of Zealand in east Denmark. All three known Italian examples, which commemorate members of the clergy, are extant, but none predate the fifteenth century.

In England gilt 'bronze' is often associated with royalty as a number of medieval kings and queens were commemorated with such monuments; so much so that the use of this metal has been called 'an English royal predilection'. Several examples remain at Westminster Abbey and one in Canterbury Cathedral, yet their survival confuses the real picture: the material had already been used for several episcopal tombs long before the creation of the earliest surviving monument, that to Henry III (d. 1272). In fact, of the twenty-one known English examples, only eight are to royalty, with seven to members of the nobility and six to members of the higher clergy.

Unfortunately the metal value of these copper alloy monuments was often the reason for their destruction: the extant examples thus seem rarer now than they were at the time. Their splendour attracted antiquarian attention, however, and many were at least recorded before they were destroyed. Moreover, their impact is evident from references to such memorials in contemporary literature, as in the opening lines of William Shakespeare's sonnet 55: 'Not marble, nor the gilded monuments / Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme'. Unfortunately this has proved only too true for many of these prestigious monuments.

The aim of the project is to produce as complete an inventory as possible of all precious-metal effigial tomb monuments across Europe up to c.1430, as this will allow us to assess the occurrence of precious-metal tombs across medieval Europe and analyse what categories of patron chose these prestigious effigy types. Thus far we have identified 110 examples across Europe in the period up to c.1430. However, locating information about demolished examples is a real problem, yet there may well be original records or antiquarian descriptions of such tombs that other scholars are aware of.

That is why we would like to raise an appeal for more information about extant and lost examples of metal effigial tomb monuments across Europe, and especially in the German-speaking regions. It is our intention to publish our inventory and a preliminary assessment of the significance of this type of memorial in the peer-reviewed journal Church Monuments, 30 (2016).

For the contact details of Dr Sophie Oosterwijk (formerly Tomb Monuments Coordinator, MeMO project, Utrecht University; now Teaching Fellow at the School of Art History, University of St Andrews, UK) and Sally Badham MBE, FSA (Vice-President of the Church Monuments Society), please consult the PDF version of MMR issue 14.

Some further reading:
  • Sally Badham, 'A lost bronze effigy from York Minster', Antiquaries Journal, 60 (1980), pp. 59-65.
  • Sally Badham, 'Cast copper-alloy tombs and London B brass production in the late fourteenth century', Transactions of the Monumental Brass Society, 17 (2004), pp. 105-127.
  • Sally Badham and Sophie Oosterwijk, 'The tomb monument of Katherine, daughter of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence (1253-7)', The Antiquaries Journal, 92 (2012), 169-196.
  • Enamels of Limoges 1100-1350, Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition catalogue (New York, 1996).


The Church Monuments Essay Prize

The Council of the Church Monuments Society has launched a biennial prize of £250 called the Church Monuments Essay Prize, to be awarded with a certificate for the best essay submitted in the relevant year. The aim of the competition is to stimulate more people, particularly those who are perhaps aiming to write on church monuments for the first time or who are not regular contributors, to submit material for the CMS journal Church Monuments. The competition is therefore open only to those who have not previously published an article in Church Monuments.

The subject of the essay must be an aspect of church monuments of any period in Britain or abroad. The length (including endnotes) shall not exceed 10,000 words and a maximum of 10 illustrations, preferably in colour. The prize will only be awarded if the essay is considered by the judges to be of sufficiently high standard to merit publication in the Society's journal.

The closing date for entries is 31 December 2015. Please contact the Hon. Journal Co-Editors for more details and / or advice on the suitability of a particular topic, or see the Society's website www.churchmonumentssociety.org for a copy of the rules and for the guidelines to contributors.

For contact information for details and for submission of articles (before 31 December 2015), please consult the PDF version of MMR issue 14.


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