Conservation United Kingdom

A new face at Windsor

Contemporary grotesque added to medieval chapel

New grotesque of a phoenix getting ready to be installed on St George’s Chapel

WINDSOR. Visitors to St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle can find a 21st-century addition to the exterior of the 15th-century church in the form of a new grotesque. The £1.84m St George’s Chapel Sculpture Fund was launched on 21 June by the Dean and Canons of Windsor with the installation of a new grotesque stone carving of a phoenix on the South front of the chapel. The sculpture was created by Clementine Nuttall, a graduate of the City & Guilds of London Art School.

The Sculpture Fund is the latest stage of a £40m appeal, launched in 2005, to finance the care of the 14th-century College of St George and its associated buildings. It is earmarked for the conservation of the 15th-century perpendicular gothic chapel, and the replacement of its degraded grotesque carvings, most of which were replacements of the 15th-century originals, installed in the late 18th to early 20th centuries.

The collaboration with the art school began in March 2005, when sculptor John Maine RA, who sits on the Fabric Advisory Committee of St. George’s, asked the school to provide 12 new grotesque carvings for the exterior of the chapel’s Bray Chantry, the burial place of Sir Reginald Bray, a minister of King Henry VII.

“The brief was unusual in terms of standard conservation and replacement programmes”, said Windsor’s Canon John White, who has worked closely with Alan Lamb, the head of historic carving at the school, in a rolling programme that has seen 25 new grotesques by staff and students carved and approved so far. “We have not tried to re-invent or re-present medieval idioms, but to restore the earlier concept of the collaborative practices of medieval sculptors, who had freedom of interpretation. We don’t want historicism, but a modern interpretation of ideas and things around us,” said Canon White. Completed carvings include an image of a mouse with a human ear growing on its back by graduate Tom Brown. The work recalls the controversial “earmouse” tissue growth experiment done by American Dr Charles Vacanti in the mid 1990s.

The project highlights the divisions in the art world between fine art and craft. “When I approached a well-known sculpture funding body for a grant to support a book about our collaboration with St George’s, one member said I ought to know better because this is craft, not art”, said the school’s principal, sculptor Tony Carter. “But I think that trying to find ways of representing the symbolism and metaphoric life of the ‘Sacred Space’, which grotesques are there to defend, is where the art comes in”.

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