Not the poet but my friend of the same name.
It felt like the first day of spring in Happy Valley as we walked up the hill to the church in the village of Chaldon. There were snowdrops and tiny Siberian irises growing in the shelter of the stone walls.
I simply was not expecting what we found in the church. The painting on the wall literally sent shivers down my spine. Not because of its content (Judgement Day – though perhaps it should) but because of its sheer, shocking brilliance and the immediacy of its impact after almost a thousand years.
First of all you are struck by the the background colour which is a stunning, deep Venetian-red terracotta. Where did it come from? Practically in the same instant, the vividness of the drawing hits you. The itinerant artist, apparently a monk, must surely have seen Greek red-figure vase painting. But where? The faceless angels brought to mind Matisse’s chapel at Vence as did the stunning economy of line in the drawing. It made me think of the strange continuities amongst works of art – Matisse and the medieval, Ancient Greece – a cyclical and not linear progression through the centuries. I recall how struck I was between the similarities between some medieval carvings in the museum at Carcasonne and the drawings of Matisse; must dig out the notes I made at the time. The same incised line.
There is also a great deal of humour in the medieval which can be seen here. Usurers, the bankers of their time roasting away (hurrah!) and various sinners getting their just desserts. The devils are huge in proportion to their angelic colleagues and the artist clearly enjoyed painting them, his enthusiasm is obvious.
The painting has been there since the 12th century and at some point was limewashed over until the 19th century. I would give anything to be able to travel back in time to have been there when it was re-discovered and brought back to life.
Unknown, itinerant artist-monk I salute you.