Arrol Adam Lecture: Prof Richard Marks
Professor Richard Marks, Keeper of Works of Art, Fitzwilliam College.
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Of all the forms of artistic expression in medieval England arguably the most accessible to the populace as a whole was stained glass. With over 10,000 parish churches as well as the secular cathedrals and religious houses, it was also a medium found everywhere and in large numbers.
Windows were paid for by individuals or groups of individuals, whether in their lifetime or posthumously as bequests. Whatever the circumstances of the bequest or gift, it was a transaction involving both the dead (the testator) and the living (the donor or the testator’s executors and families and the recipient’s representatives). The principal purpose was the same: to elicit a response of prayer for the well-being of their benefactors’ souls and those of their designated associates; for the families, heirs and friends of donors, windows were sites of memory and association. They also were bearers of worldly messages about wealth and status and thus their funding might be motivated as much by pride, position and posterity as much as piety. At the same time, windows were part of the fabric and thus integrated within the public space of the church. Together with wall, niche, altarpiece and screen they provided a field for the sacred stock (the ‘holie companie of heven’) of that church.
The primary sources for documenting the commissioning of windows are numerous medieval wills, which are the subject of a forthcoming book. This lecture assesses the contribution of wills to the understanding of medieval piety, patronage and commissioning.