Two fragments from a medieval painting in St Saviour’s church, Norwich – by Trevor Nuthall

The discovery

Two fragments from an early 15th century panel painting are now in the Fitzwilliam
Museum in Cambridge. They were displayed in 1872 by Thomas Bayfield at a general
meeting of the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society. It was reported that they
had been found when some cottages were demolished in Huby’s Yard in the parish of St
Saviour, Norwich. According to the 1851 census return for St Saviour’s parish, Huby’s
Yard was on Magdalen Street opposite St Saviour’s church or more precisely the entry
to the yard was opposite the north-west corner of St Saviour’s churchyard. The yard
was demolished in the 1930s and is now occupied by Aladdin’s Cave.

John Huby, who died in 1835, was a whitesmith and the parish clerk of St Saviour’s
church. How did the paintings get from the church to Huby’s Yard? It has been
suggested that this may have happened in 1822/23 when all the woodwork in the
church was repainted, during a period when Bayfield’s father was churchwarden and
just after Huby had been appointed parish clerk.

The painting fragments

The fragments are thought to come from a single large painting that shows a range of
episodes from Christ’s Passion together in a panorama including Jerusalem and Calvary.
The sequence of the narrative is arranged as an itinerary through various sites in the
city and out to the place of execution. The principle is like that of episodes from the
Passion being performed as plays on carts or other stages in different parts of a
medieval town.

They may date from the mid-1420s when the chancel of St Saviour’s church was being
rebuilt and glazed. It has been noted that they are quite distinctive in the degree of focus
on the figures, and especially their faces and gestures, rather than on the setting. One of
the fragments, ‘Christ before Herod’, “shows a crowned figure with sharp, snarling
features, presumably Herod, who with an oleaginous cleric addresses the mild-
mannered but unresponsive Jesus (Luke 23. 8-9). The porcine features of the man
crying ‘Crucify, crucify’, indicate his beastly aggression”. The other fragment, ‘Christ
carrying the Cross’, shows “the tormentors at the carrying of the Cross. Their open
mouths lend a noisy violence to the scene and contrast markedly with the sad
resignation of the Virgin Mary gazing eye-to-eye with the clean shaven and fair headed
St John…. Viewers of this picture are encouraged to witness the behaviour and emotions
of the participants in the drama as though they too were among the crowd.”

Sources

St Saviour’s church – Huby’s Yard painting fragments, The Medieval Churches of
Norwich – City, Community & Architecture, norwichmedievalchurches.org.
Census of Norwich 1851, the parish of St Saviour.

One thought on “Two fragments from a medieval painting in St Saviour’s church, Norwich – by Trevor Nuthall

  1. I love this (but then I am a painter, and antiquarian), and thank you!
    I have added herein the link to the pages
    should anyone wish a quick online look at the painting fragments themselves.
    Some stimulating things you’re providing here in your posts, thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

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