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ON NORMAN TYMPANA,
WITH ESPECIAL REFERENCE TO THOSE OF DERBYSHIRE
BY T. N. BRUSHFIELD, M.D., F.S.A.
VISIT to the church of Ashford-in-theWater, during the Buxton Congress in 1899, for the purpose, inter alia, of inspecting the Norman tympanum preserved there, led to the suggestion that a Paper on the various tympana of that
period still to be found in Derbyshire churches, might be acceptable to the members of this Association.
It is known that many, perhaps the majority, of the principal doorways of the later Anglo-Saxon churches had semicircular heads, a feature continued into and to the end of the Norman period. It was, however, reserved for the architects of the twelfth century to fill up the space left between the arch and the square head of the door with a stone slab or tympanum.
instances this was left quite plain, but the greater number we re carved with devices extremely varied in character. Some bore patterns of geometric figures, chequers, etc. ; but the number of these were comparatively few, the majority being sculptured with representations of the human subject; of animals, real or fabulous, with attendant scroll-work; of scenes from Scripture, symbolical and
1 The following are the principal authorities consulted : Churches of Derbyshire (1875-9), by the Rev. Dr. Cox ; Christian Symbolism, by J. Romilly Allen (1887); Gothic Ecclesiastical Architecture (1882), by M. Bloxam; Archeologia ; Parker's Glossary; and the various volumes of the Reliquary. 1900
literal, etc. It was usually surrounded by a border, generally of a simple kind, but occasionally much decorated.
Except in the case of a simple figure, like that of the Agnus Dei, few of the sculptures contain a repetition of the same subject, or bear evidence of being the work of the same designer; the representation of Christ in Glory forming one of the exceptions to the former, and the tympana preserved in the Derbyshire churches at Findern and Tissington to the latter (another example is cited by Bloxam, vol. i, p. 90).
The arches and pillars of the doorways of the Norman period contain, as a rule, much decorative sculpture, the carved work being, in many examples, of the most elaborate description ; but the presence of this enrichment apptars in no way to have influenced the presence or absence of a tympanum. For example, the stonework of the south entrance to Patricksbourne Church, Kent, is profusely covered with sculptured representations of various kinds, and also possesses a tympanum, containing an elaborate carving of Christ in Glory. On the other hand, no tympanum graces the highly-decorated doorway of Steetley Church in this county.
Again, a plain arch may possess a tympanum, as at Hault Hucknall
, or be destitute of one, as in the case of Fritwell Church, Oxford.
Where the tympanum does not occupy the whole of the space between the arch and the doorhead, a separate lintel is fixed, and this is generally placed on a level with the capitals supporting the arches. For the most part, this is sculptured with a subject quite distinct from that on the upper stone, as at Little Langford, Wilts., and Dinton, Bucks. ; but occasionally that of the tympanum proper
is continued into it, of which there is a beautiful example above the prior's door at Ely Cathedral. In many doorways jambs have been added to limit the size of the door, and these are frequently quite plain ; others are, however, beautifully sculptured as at Ely, where the upper part of each is expanded into brackets for the support of the lintel.
In some examples the stone partakes of the twofold character of a tympanum and a lintel, being deeper in the centre than at the sides, and forming a kind of semitympanum, a plain stone filling the space above it, as at Normanton, Derbyshire, Down St. Mary, Devonshire, and Penselwood, Somersetshire.
Symbolic sculpture is occasionally found carved in the arch itself, as at Findern and Tissington, Derbyshire, St. Margaret's-at-Cliffe, Dover, and in several Berkshire churches.
In a few examples where the opening was of unusually large dimensions, or the sculpture was required to be in high relief, the semicircular space was filled in with several stones, as at Ely Cathedral, and at Bolsover Church in this county ; but in the majority the tympanum consisted of one thin stone slab, containing rudelyexecuted sculpture in very low relief. It may, however, be at once remarked that rudeness of form and roughness of execution afford no indication of the actual or proximate date when the carving was executed. In many examples the figures were rudely indicated by simple incised lines, the stone beyond the outline remaining untouched. A curious variation occurs in a tympanum at Fordington Church, Dorsetshire, where the sculptures, representing St. George attacking the Pagans,“ have evidently been cut after the door was built, and appear to have been drawn on the surface, and only so much of it cut away as would give relief to the figures” (Parker's Glossary, vol. ii, p. 29, and pl. 73). Sometimes the carving was contained in a sunk panel of irregular form, as in two instances at Egloskerry, Cornwall. The details of the carving we re almost always meagre (that at Ely Cathedral forming a notable exception), and the grouping bad, with an entire absence of perspective, as well as a want of due proportion between the objects represented.
Prolonged exposure of the stone to the weather for several centuries (notwithstanding the partial protection of a porch), aided by the circumstance of its bedding face being the portion usually exposed, led to so much erosion and exfoliation as to render it difficult in many instances to ascertain the true character of the subject, and has not