A defaced medieval reredos – Notgrove, Gloucestershire

Notgrove, Gloucestershire

The east wall behind the high altar of the tiny little estate church at Notgrove in Gloucestershire is generally covered with a large tapestry, which was made in 1954. If you pull it up, and there is a little pulley to help you, you reveal this: the fascinating remains of a medieval reredos, which has been sadly defaced. The reredos, as you see, is rather asymmetrical in form. There was a central two-dimensional panel set under a canopy and on either side two ogee-headed niches filled with painting, one a little larger than the other. The side niches are not filled with figurative work but seem to form decorative backgrounds, so presumably images were placed in front of them. There seems to be evidence of a ledge set underneath the panels, so presumably three-dimensional figures were placed here. All very interesting.

Notgrove, Gloucestershire

The iconography of the central panel is a bit of a puzzle. What is it? My feeling is that it was a Nativity scene, the sort which portrayed Our Lady sat up in bed, what they called ‘Our Lady in Jesyn’ in the Middle Ages, i.e. Our Lady at her lying in.

Notgrove, Gloucestershire

The whole damaged composition was evidently gloriously painted when it was first made and remnants of the painted decoration remain, including decorative foliage backgrounds. At the top of the right hand niche ths lovely painted and gilded angel emerges from the flaking plaster. Stylistically this helps date the whole thing to the late fourteenth century. According to dear old Professor Pevsner there was once a series of painted panels of the passion of Christ below the niches, but the plaster is too far gone to make them out, which is a dreadful shame.

Notgrove, Gloucestershire
Notgrove’s pretty little broach spire

5 thoughts on “A defaced medieval reredos – Notgrove, Gloucestershire

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  1. Have you noticed that the centre, carved panel appears to have been plugged into a reredos which originally consisted of three near-identical ogee-headed niches? The point at the head of the original centre niche is still visible above the carved insert. In which case, might the style of the coving have thrown off the dating of the reredos as a whole? My sense of these things is as much intuitive as analytic, but it seems to me that the painted angel could be of earlier date than the late 14th century.


  2. ps Looking at the full-scale blow up for your first scan, the small, earlier section visible above the carved insert is clearly a portion of the right-hand side of the niche, not its apex. Additional plugging at the head of the niche is more clearly visible in the full scan.


  3. This is all very interesting. I hadn’t clocked that the central niche had been replaced with the current panel. It’s funny how blind you can be to things. As for the painted figure, you might be right on closer look. Certainly a date in the second quarter of the fourteenth century would I suppose be more consistent with the frame.


  4. The flash on your camera probably pointed up surface textures not obvious under normal lighting conditions – the Blessed N Pevsner and his crew missed it, after all. Might the loss of the Passion sequence noted by the professor be in any way connected to the fact that the casual passer-by may raise and lower the tapestry behind the altar, perhaps rubbing the plaster in the process?


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