Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V04, Page 434 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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MONUMENTAL BRASSES, a species of engraved sepulchral memorials which in the early part of the 13th century began to take the place of tombs and effigies carved in stone. Made of hard latten or sheet brass, let into the pavement, and thus forming no obstruction in the space required for the services of the church, they speedily came into general use, and continued to be a favourite style of sepulchral memorial for three centuries. Besides their great value as historical monuments, they are interesting as authentic contemporary evidence of the varieties of armour and costume, or the peculiarities of palaeography and heraldic designs, and they are often the only authoritative records of the intricate details of family history. Although the intrinsic value of the metal has unfortunately contributed to the wholesale spoliation of these interesting monuments, they are still found in remarkable profusion in England, and they were at one time equally common in France, Germany and the Low Countries. In France, however, those that survived the troubles of the 16th century were totally swept away during the reign of terror, and almost the only evidence of their existence is now supplied by the collection of drawings bequeathed by Gough to the Bodleian library. The fine memorials of the royal house of Saxony in the cathedrals of Meissen and Freiberg are the most artistic and striking brasses in Germany. Among the 13th-century examples existing in German churches are the full-length memorials of Yso von Welpe, bishop of Verden (1231), and of Bernard, bishop of Paderborn (1340). Many fine Flemish specimens exist in Belgium, especially at Bruges. Only two or three examples, and these of late date, are known in Scotland, among which are the memorials of Alexander Cockburn (1564) at Ormiston; of the regent Murray (1569) in the collegiate church of St Giles, Edinburgh; and of the Minto family (16o5) in the south aisle of the nave of Glasgow cathedral. England is the only country which now possesses an extensive series of these interesting memorials, of which it is calculated that there may be about 4000 still remaining in the various churches. They are most abundant in the eastern counties, and this fact has been frequently adduced in support of the opinion that they were of Flemish manufacture. But in the days when sepulchral brasses were most in fashion the eastern counties of England were full of commercial activity and wealth, and nowhere do the en-graved memorials of civilians and prosperous merchants more abound than in the churches of Ipswich, Norwich, Lynn and Lincoln. Flemish brasses do occur in England, but they were never numerous, and they are readily distinguished from those of native workmanship. The Flemish examples have the figures engraved in the centre of a large plate, the background filled in with diapered or scroll work, and the inscription placed round the edge of the plate. The English examples have the figures cut out to the outline and inserted in corresponding cavities in the slab, the darker colour of the stone serving as a background. This is not an invariable distinction, however, as " figure-brasses " of Flemish origin are found both at Bruges and in England. But the character of the engraving is constant, the Flemish work being more florid in design, the lines shallower, and the broad lines cut with a chisel-pointed tool instead of the lozenge-shaped burin. The brass of Robert Hallum, bishop of Salisbury, the envoy of Henry V. to the council of Constance, who died and was interred there in 1416, precisely resemblesthe brasses of England in the peculiarities which distinguish them from continental specimens. Scarcely any of the brasses which now exist in England can be confidently referred to the first half of the 13th century, though several undoubted examples of this period are on record. The full-sized brass of Sir John d'Aubernon at Stoke d'Abernon in Surrey (c. 1277) has the decorations of the shield filled in with a species of enamel. Other examples of this occur, and the probability, is, that, in most cases, the lines of the engraving were filled with colouring-matter, though brass would scarcely bear the heat requisite to fuse the ordinary enamels. A well-known 13th-century example is that of Sir Roger de Trumpington (c. 1290), who accompanied Prince Edward in his expedition to Palestine and is represented cross-legged. About half a dozen instances of this peculiarity are known. The 14th-century brasses are much more numerous, and present a remarkable variety in their details. The finest specimen is that of Nicholas Lord Burnell (1315) in the church of Acton Burnell, Shropshire. In the 15th century the design and execution of monumental brasses had attained their highest excellence. The beautiful brass of Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (d. 1401), and his wife Margaret, which formerly covered the tomb in St Mary's church, Warwick, is a striking example. One of the best specimens of plate armour is that of Sir Robert Stantoun (1458) in Castle Donnington church, Leicestershire, and one of the finest existing brasses of ecclesiastics is that of Abbot de la Mare of St Albans. It is only in the 16th century that the engraved representations become portraits. Previous to that period the features were invariably represented convention-ally, though sometimes personal peculiarities were given. A large number of brasses in England are palimpsests, the back of an ancient brass having been engraved for the more recent memorial. Thus a brass commemorative of Margaret Buistrode (1540) at Hedgerley, on being removed from its position, was discovered to have been previously the memorial of Thomas Totyngton, abbot of St Edmunds, Bury (1312). The abbey was only surrendered to Henry VIII. in 1539, so that before the year was out the work of spoliation had begun, and the abbot's brass had been removed and re-engraved to Margaret Buistrode. In explanation of the frequency with which ancient brasses have thus been stolen and re-erected after being engraved on the reverse, as at Berkhampstead, it may be remarked that all the sheet brass used in England previous to the establishment of a manufactory at Esher by a German in 1649, had to be imported from the continent.
BRASS (O. Eng. braes)

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