Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Monumental Effigies

An "effigy" (Lat. effigies, from effingere, to fashion) is, in general, a material image or likeness of a person; and the practice of hanging or burning people "in effigy," i.e. their semblance only, preserves the more general sense of the word. Such representations may be portraits, caricatures or models. But, apart from general usages of the term (see e.g. WAX Figures), it is more particularly applied in the history of art to a particular class of sculptured figures, in the flat or the round, associated with Christian sepulchral monuments, dating from the 12th century. The earliest of these attempts at commemorative portraiture were executed in low relief upon coffin-lids of stone or purbeck marble, some portions of the designs for the most part being executed by means of incised lines, cut upon the raised figure. Gradually, with the increased size and the greater architectural dignity of monumental structures, effigies attained to a high rank as works of art, so that before the close of the 13th century very noble examples of figures of this order are found to have been executed in full relief; and, about the same period, similar figures also began to be engraved, either upon monumental slabs of stone or marble, or upon plates of metal, which were affixed to the surfaces of slabs that were laid in the pavements of churches.

Engraved plates of this class, known as "Brasses" (see Brasses, Monumental), continued in favour until the era of the Reformation, and in recent times their use has been revived. It seems probable that the introduction and the prevalence of flat engraved memorials, in place of commemorative effigies in relief, was due, in the first instance, to the inconvenience resulting from increasing numbers of raised stones on the pavement of churches; while the comparatively small cost of engraved plates, their high artistic capabilities, and their durability, combined to secure for them the popularity they unquestionably enjoyed. If considerably less numerous than contemporary incised slabs and engraved brasses, effigies sculptured in relief - with some exceptions in full relief - continued for centuries to constitute the most important features in many medieval monuments. In the 13th century, their origin being apparently derived from the endeavour to combine a monumental effigy with a monumental cross upon the same sepulchral stone (whether in sculpture or by incised lines), parts only of the human figure sometimes were represented, such as the head or bust, and occasionally also the feet; in some of the early examples of this curious class the cross symbol was not introduced, and after awhile half-length figures became common.

Except in very rare instances, that most important element, genuine face-portraiture, is not to be looked for, in even the finest sculptured effigies, earlier than about the middle of the 15th century. In works of the highest order of art, indeed, the memorials of personages of the most exalted rank, effigies from an early period in their existence may be considered occasionally to have been portraits properly so called; and yet even in such works as these an approximately correct general resemblance but too frequently appears to have been all that was contemplated or desired. At the same time, in the earliest monumental effigies we possess contemporaryexamples of vestments, costume,' armour, weapons, royal and knightly insignia, and other personal appointments and accessories, in all of which accurate fidelity has been certainly observed with scrupulous care and minute exactness. Thus, since the monumental effigies of England are second to none in artistic merit, while they have been preserved in far greater numbers, and generally in better condition than those in other countries, they represent in unbroken continuity an unrivalled series of original personal representations of successive generations, very many of them being, in 1 It is well known that the costume of effigies nearly always represented what was actually worn by the remains of the person commemorated, when prepared for interment and when lying in state; and, in like manner, the aspect of the lifeless countenance, even if not designedly reproduced by medieval "image" makers, may long have exercised a powerful influence upon their ideas of consistent monumental portraiture.

the most significant acceptation of that term, veritable contemporaneous portraits.

Once esteemed to be simply objects of antiquarian curiosity, and either altogether disregarded or too often subjected to injurious indignity, the monumental effigies in England long awaited the formation of a just estimate of their true character and their consequent worth in their capacity as authorities for face-portraiture. In the original contract for the construction of the monument at Warwick to Richard Beauchamp, the fifth earl, who died in 1439, it is provided that an effigy of the deceased noble should be executed in bronze gilt, with all possible care, by the most skilful and experienced artists of the time; and the details of the armour and the ornaments of the figure are specified with minute precision. It is remarkable, however, that the effigy itself is described only in the general and indefinite terms - "an image of a man armed." There is no provision that the effigy should be "an image" of the earl; and much less is anything said as to its being such a "counterfeit presentment" of the features and person of the living man, as the contemporaries of Shakespeare had learned to expect in what they would accept as true portraiture. The effigy, almost as perfect as when it left the sculptor's hands, still bears witness, as well to the conscientious care with which the conditions of the contract were fulfilled, as to the eminent ability of the artists employed. So complete is the representation of the armour, that this effigy might be considered actually to have been equipped in the earl's own favourite suit of the finest Milan steel. The cast of the figure also was evidently studied from what the earl had been when in life, and the countenance is sufficiently marked and endowed with the unmistakable attributes of personal character. Possibly such a resemblance may have been the highest aim in the image-making of the period, somewhat before the middle of the 15th century. Three-quarters of a century later, a decided step towards fidelity in true portraiture is shown to have been taken, when, in his will (151 0 A.D.), Henry VII. spoke of the effigies of himself and of his late queen, Elizabeth of York, to be executed for their monument, as "an image of our figure and another of hers." The existing effigies in the Beauchamp chapel and in Henry VII.'s chapel, with the passages just quoted from the contract made by the executors of the Lancastrian earl, strikingly illustrate the gradual development of the idea of true personal portraiture in monumental effigies, during the course of the 15th and at the commencement of the 16th century in England.

Study of the royal effigies still preserved must commence in Worcester Cathedral with that of King John. This earliest example of a series of effigies of which the historical value has never yet been duly appreciated is rude as a work of art, and yet there is on it the impress of such individuality as demonstrates that the sculptor did his best to represent the king. Singularly fine as achievements of the sculptor's art are the effigies of Henry III., Queen Eleanor of Castile, and her ill-fated son Edward II., the two former in Westminster Abbey, the last in Gloucester cathedral; and of their fidelity also as portraits no doubt can be entertained. In like manner the effigies of Edward III. and his queen Philippa, and those of their grandson Richard II. and his first consort, Anne of Bohemia (all at Westminster), and of their other grandson, Henry of Lancaster, with his second consort, Joan of Navarre, at Canterbury - all convince us that they are true portraits. Next follow the effigies of Henry VII. and Elizabeth of York, - to be succeeded, and the royal series to be completed, by the effigies of Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart, all of them in Westminster Abbey. Very instructive would be a close comparison between the two lastnamed works and the painted portraits of the rival queens, especially in the case of Mary, the pictures of whom differ so remarkably from one another.

As the 15th century advanced, the rank of the personage represented and the character of the art that distinguishes any effigy goes far to determine its portrait qualities. Still later, when more exact face-portraiture had become a recognized element, sculptors must be supposed to have aimed at the production of such resemblance as their art would enable them to give to their works; and accordingly, when we compare effigies with painted portraits of the same personages, we find that they corroborate one another. The prevalence of portraiture in the effigies of the 16th and 17th centuries, when their art generally underwent a palpable decline, by no means raises all works of this class, or indeed the majority of them, to the dignity of true portraits; on the contrary, in these effigies, as in those of earlier periods, it is the character of the art in each particular example that affects its merit, value and authority as a portrait. In judging of these latter effigies, however, we must estimate them by the standard of art of their own era; and, as a general rule, the effigies that are the best as works of art in their own class are the best also and the most faithful in their portraiture. The earlier effigies, usually produced without any express aim at exact portraiture, as we now employ that expression, have nevertheless strong claims upon our veneration. Often their sculpture is very noble; and even when they are rudest as works of art, there is rarely lacking a rough grandeur about them, as exhibited in the fine bold figure of Fair Rosamond's son, Earl William of the Long Sword, which reposes in such dignified serenity in his own cathedral at Salisbury. These effigies may not bring us closely face to face with remote generations, but they do place before us true images of what the men and women of those generations were.

Observant students of monumental effigies will not fail to appreciate the singular felicity with which the medieval sculptors adjusted their compositions to the recumbent position in which their "images" necessarily had to be placed. Equally worthy of notice is the manner in which many monumental effigies, particularly those of comparatively early date, are found to have assumed an aspect neither living nor lifeless, and yet impressively life-like. The sound judgment also, and the good taste of those early sculptors, were signally exemplified in their excluding, almost without exception, the more extravagant fashions in the costume of their era from their monumental sculpture, and introducing only the simpler but not less characteristic styles of dress and appointments. Monumental effigies, as commonly understood, represent recumbent figures, and the accessories of the effigies themselves have been adjusted to that position. With the exceptions when they appear on one side resting on the elbow (as in the case of Thomas Owen (d. 1598) and Sir Thomas Heskett (d. 1605), both in Westminster Abbey), these effigies lie on their backs, and as a general rule (except in the case of episcopal figures represented in the act of benediction, or of princes and warriors who sometimes hold a sceptre or a sword) their hands are uplifted and conjoined as in supplication. The crossed-legged attitude of numerous armed effigies of the era of mail-armour has been supposed to imply the personages so represented to have been crusaders or Knights of the Temple; but in either case the supposition is unfounded and inconsistent with unquestionable facts. Much beautiful feeling is conveyed by figures of ministering angels being introduced as in the act of supporting and smoothing the pillows or cushions that are placed in very many instances to give support to the heads of the recumbent effigies. The animals at the feet of these effigies, which frequently have an heraldic significance, enabled the sculptors, with equal propriety and effectiveness, to overcome one of the special difficulties inseparable from the recumbent position. In general, monumental effigies were carved in stone or marble, or cast in bronze, but occasionally they were of wood: such is the effigy of Robert Curthose, son of William I. (d. 1135), whose altar tomb in Gloucester cathedral was probably set up about 13 20.

In addition to recumbent statues, upright figures must receive notice here, especially those set in wall-monuments in churches mainly. These usually consisted in half-length figures, seen full-face, placed in a recess within an architectural setting more or less elaborate. They belong mainly to the 6th and 7th centuries. Among the many examples in old St Paul's cathedral (destroyed in the Great Fire

of 1666) were those of Dean Colet (d. 1519), William Aubrey (1595) and Alexander Nowell (d. 160 t).

In St Giles's, Cripplegate, is the similarly designed effigy of John Speed (d. 1629); while that of John Stow (d. 1605) is a fulllength, seated figure. This, like the figure of Thomas Owen, is in alabaster, but since its erection has always been described as terra-cotta - a material which came into considerable favour for the purpose of busts and half-lengths towards the end of the 16th century, imported, of course, from abroad. Sometimes the stone monuments were painted to resemble life, as in the monuments to Shakespeare and John Combe (the latter now over-painted white), in Holy Trinity Church, Stratfordon-Avon.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. - Among the more noteworthy publications are the following: Monumental Effigies in Great Britain (Norman Conquest to Henry VIII.), by C. A. Stothard, folio (London, 1876); The Recumbent Monumental Effigies in Northamptonshire, by A. Hartshorne (4to, London. 1867-1876); Sepulchral Memorials (Northamptonshire), by W. H. Hyett (folio, London, 1817); Ancient Sepulchral Effigies and Monumental Sculpture of Devon, by W. H. H. Rogers (4to, Exeter, 1877); The Ancient Sepulchral Monuments of Essex, ed. by C. M. Carlton (4to, Chelmsford, 1890); and other works dealing with the subject according to counties. Of particular value is the Report of the Sepulchral Monuments Committee of the Society of Antiquaries, laboriously compiled at the request of the Office of Works, arranged (I) personally and chronologically, and (2) locally (1872). (C. B.; M. H. S.)

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Monumental Effigies'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
Next Entry