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The Reredos of All Souls College Oxford

The Reredos of All Souls College Oxford


Available as a fixed-page e-book through University of Chicago Press


Pevsner calls it ‘marvellous’. Yet the reredos of the fifteenth-century chapel of All Souls College, Oxford, with its combination of medieval niches and statuary by George Gilbert Scott, has remained one of the unsung glories of both medieval Perpendicular architecture and Victorian restoration. Informed by recent scientific investigation of its stonework and its surviving medieval polychromy, this volume traces for the first time the entire history of the reredos in its architectural and religious context – from the phases of its medieval and early Tudor construction, through its covering up with a succession of baroque and neoclassical decorative schemes, to its uncovering and restoration in the 1870s.


This stunning book, in five sections - Probing, Making, Breaking, Covering and Restoring - presents for the first time the full history of the reredos of the fifteenth-century chapel of All Souls College, Oxford, and provides a novel and revealing vantage point on the artistic, cultural and ecclesiological history of Britain across four centuries. 


The collection opens with a survey by the editor, Peregrine Horden, of the chapel as a whole and its architectural and decorative history. ‘Probing’ presents the new scientific findings: complementing the available documentary evidence, Tim Palmer and Ruth Shaffrey identify the stone of the reredos and show which quarries it came from; Emily Howe demonstrates the remarkable extent, original cost, and variety of the surviving medieval polychromy, added to the niches around the original statuary only once the figures were in position. In ‘Making’ Eamon Duffy sets out the religious context of the reredos in the cults, practices and beliefs, new and old, of the fifteenth century. Christopher Wilson offers a radically new reading of the evidence, visual and archival, to propose that the reredos niches we see were not medieval but early Tudor: not the founder, Archbishop Chichele’s, original, but a more opulent and larger replacement funded by benefactions in the decades around 1500. In ‘Breaking’ Diarmaid MacCulloch takes the long view of Reformation iconophobia and iconoclasm. Peregrine Horden details the way in which the medieval or Tudor statues were removed amid the religious upheavals of  Edward VI’s reign. In ‘Covering’ the volume passes in review the various decorative schemes of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as part of which the vandalized reredos niches were covered up, first by that now obscure local protagonist of the English Baroque, Isaac Fuller (in the chapter by Michael Liversidge), then by James Thornhill’s grand mural of the apotheosis of the founder (Richard Johns), finally by the bold commissioning of an altar painting from the renowned neo-classical artist Anton Raphael Mengs (Robin Darwall-Smith). The final section, ‘Restoring’, is devoted to the college politics of the 1870s, the wider ecclesiological debates surrounding the removal of the Thornhill and the Mengs, and the very careful restoration by Scott of the reredos niches with the addition of quasi-medieval sculpture (S. J. D. Green and Michael Hall). 

  • Edited by Peregrine Horden

    May 2021

    Published by Ad Ilissvm

    Paperback, 240 x 170 mm

    304 pages, 140 illustrations

    ISBN: 978-1-912168-22-4

  • Contributors

    John Drury, All Souls College; Peregrine Horden, All Souls College; Tim Palmer, Aberystwyth University; Ruth Shaffrey, Oxford Archaeology; Emily Howe, independent wall painting conservator; Eamon Duffy, Magdalene College, Cambridge; Christopher Wilson, University College London; Diarmaid MacCulloch, St Cross College, Oxford; Michael Liversidge, University of Bristol; Richard Johns, University of York; Robin Darwall-Smith, All Souls College; S. J. D. Green, All Souls College; Michael Hall, Burlington Magazine.

  • In the press

    "A beautifully produced book with outstanding contributions and a series of authoritative and readable essays, supported by excellent illustrations, all focused on a magnificent object." —The Burlington


    "A real revelation and a genuine pleasure to read. The editor has assembled an expert cast of contributors who, between them, brilliantly tell the story of how changing tastes in art, education, and religion played out at All Souls, superbly illustrated in a slew of colour pictures ... It is, all told, a triumph." —Church Times


    "Scholarly, beautifully produced, micro-history" —Ecclesiology Today


    "Entertaining and informative" —Telegraph 


    "A wide-ranging account of this magnificent work, by leading scholars in the fields of history, and art and architectural history, as well as specialists in stone types and the analysis of paint ... This is a very valuable study ... handsomely produced ... with plentiful colour illustrations of high quality." —Oxoniensia 

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