15th-century British Art

Painting Sculpture
Historical background


Those works, of unequal merit, which have escaped the hand of time and the iconoclasts (wall paintings; panels decorating choir stalls; choir screens; altars) bear witness to Flemish influence. In the Eton College chapel the frescoes of the miracles of the Virgin (c. 1480-1488), by William Baker are reminiscent of Rogier van der Weyden and Dieric Bouts. Royal iconography was enriched by portraits of various sovereigns.


English sculpture, realist by inclination and also because of Flemish influence, nearly always favoured juxtaposed statues in niches, sometimes placed in rows at several levels (façades; choir screens). Friezes composed of the head and shoulders of angels, surmounting a parapet, are typical of the Perpendicular style. The tomb with mourners of Richard Beauchamp (1439, Warwick), by John Massingham, illustrates the vigour of funerary art. Macabre subjects were more realistic than in France (tomb of Thomas Hardy, d. 1424, York). The tomb used as a chantry chapel is frequently found, for example: tomb of Henry IV (1443, Canterbury); bishops' chantries at Lincoln, Hereford and Ely. At the begirming of the 16th century Henry VII's chapel in Westminster abbey was given a lively statuary, while in the rich heraldic decoration of King's College chapel, Cambridge, the human figure had a modest place. The carved wooden stalls of the early 16th century at Windsor, Ripon, Manchester, and in the Henry VII chapel were inspired by Dutch or Flemish models.

Sculpture in alabaster was developed on the scale of an industry. Ready-made panels were used to compose sarcophagi, tombs and altars. These stereotyped works, gilded and polychrome, whose style seldom varied, were destined for an English clientèle as well as for the foreign market.