Brown, Michelle P., “The Lichfield Angel and the manuscript context: Lichfield as a centre of Insular art”, Journal of the British Archaeological Association 160 (2007): 8–19.

  • journal article
Citation details
“The Lichfield Angel and the manuscript context: Lichfield as a centre of Insular art”
Abstract (cited)
It has long been surmised that Lichfield, which at the end of the 8th and beginning of the 9th centuries even served as England's third archbishopric for a time, may have been a notable centre of religious culture. None the less, the site's traumatic history of despoliation by Viking and puritanical Civil War forces has led to an absence of artworks in situ or of early archives. The recent excavation by Warwick Rodwell of what is thought to be the shrine of St Chad, including the carefully deposited remains of an imposing sculptural slab depicting an angel has gone some considerable way towards rectifying such lacunae. The angel probably formed half of an Annunciation panel which acted as a gable end from a stone house-shaped tomb, for which formal and stylistic parallels are here adduced. These would suggest a date for the piece of late 8th or early 9th century, a time when kings Offa and Coenwulf of Mercia were both patronising Lichfield. Remarkably, the angel retains much of its original polychrome pigmentation and the unusual palette, consisting of shades of purple, white and black—not the most obvious colours to use for stone sculpture—raises interesting connections with two manuscripts that have been associated with early Lichfield: the Lichfield Gospels and the Book of Cerne. This paper goes on to explore the relationship between these works and concludes that the Lichfield Gospels was made during the mid-8th century, probably at Lindisfarne but for another centre which is likely to have been Chad of Lindisfarne's shrine at his foundation of Lichfield. This book features a palette of purples and white, perhaps prompted by Bedan exegesis, and the stone sculptures added to Chad's shrine around 800 may have been coloured similarly to complement the Gospelbook. The Book of Cerne, probably made for Bishop Aethelwald of Lichfield (818–30) also features these colours, inter alia, and its St John evangelist symbol offers the closest analogy for the treatment of the angel's plumage, further reinforcing the likelihood of a Lichfield origin for this important prayerbook.
Subjects and topics
Dennis Groenewegen
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November 2020