Thursday, July 27, 2023

Cast Creatures - Medieval Footrests at the V & A...

Recently wandering around the marvelous 19th century Cast Courts at the V & A, I saw more examples of footrests on sculpted Medieval tomb monuments, from the original pieces copied around Europe.
The gisant figures of the departed lie fully clothed in all their worldly or spiritual finery, with apparel that reflects their rank, religion, wealth and worth.
On the voluminous folds of their clothing rest both hands, joined in prayer on the chest or clutching some spiritual, social, chivalric artifact, or simply crossed on the body.
These notable beings appear to sleep peacefully and in great dignity. Noble husbands and wives repose next to each other yet apart; religious individuals lie alone, clasping a holy script or ecclesiastical object. Knights proudly grasp their sword and shield, their bodies twisted as if ready to spring to action.
Some figures are shown lying on crib-like structures that are richly decorated with sculpted draped cloth, and several are represented in the bright colours that were wildly employed on the stonework of churches and cathedrals alike.
With the exception of a few figures, the majority of the departed are accompanied by a beast, symbolic of their standing; be it a lion, bear, dragon, dog, or unicorn.
Rare are the individuals who have no creature crouched or nestled at their feet or nothing on which to rest their often impressive footwear.
It is more customary to see one or two creatures that look up to their masters with devotion and obedience either from a high-relief sculpted plaque or a 3-dimensional sculptured piece.
The lion, symbol of power and pride, frequently appears next to venerable male figures although not always gazing at the gisant or postioned at foot level.
The king of the beasts is not exclusively reserved for men-folk as women too could be accompanied by the regal lion although in that case the ferocity appears somewhat toned down to the point of docility!
Likewise the dog – representing loyalty – could be shown lovingly guarding over his mistress...
... Or fiercely watching over his master...
In the case of a married couple, both lion and dog would be appear together.
Sometimes the interaction between the beasts is one of domination but at other moments is rather comic...
... Or quite strange...
And finally you have some departed who simply refuse to lie down and sleep, with or without an accompanying animal!

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