The Reredos of All Souls College Oxford
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.
The volume opens with a survey by the editor, Peregrine Horden, of the chapel as a whole and its architectural and decorative history. The first part of the collection, ‘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 Part 2, ‘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 Part 3, ‘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 Part 4, ‘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, fi rst 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 part of the volume, ‘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).
The book provides a novel and revealing vantage point on the artistic, cultural and ecclesiological history of Britain across four centuries.
Edited by Peregrine Horden
Published by Ad Ilissvm
Paperback, 237 x 170 mm
256 pages, 100 illustrations