Virgin and Child, tympanum.

Image of the feature "Loose Sculpture: Tympanum" at Fownhope.

by Ron Baxter.

Virgin and Child tympanum, segmental, red sandstone. The tympanum was built into the exterior west wall of the nave in the 19thc., but has since been moved inside the church, when recorded it was loose at the west end of the nave. The tympanum is notably large and thick. Extracts from the conservation report made at the time of its removal to the English Romanesque Art exhibition in 1984 are worth repeating here:

'Surface: Slight surface dust. The flaking remains of black, red and yellow pigments are to be found scattered over the surface, indicating a fully polychromed scheme existed at some time. Structure: The stone surface is sound except for slight scaling along the bottom edge of the panel, on the vine leaf to the left, slight loss on the Eagle and in the vine above the winged Lion. A small fragment of vine (20x30mm) is missing from the top left of the panel.'

An estimate of £495 was prepared by Michael R. Eastham of Bristol at that time for the removal and reinstallation of the tympanum, and conservation and cleaning including removal of mortar and consolidation of the pigment and friable areas of stone.

It represents the patron of the church, the Virgin, seated frontally with an unusually large child seated frontally on her lap. Christ is blessing with right hand raised, the left holding a scroll. The Virgin supports Christ with her left hand across his middle, and raises her right hand in blessing. She holds a small fruit between the right thumb and forefinger, and wears a skull cap. Her face is oval with bulging eyes, a straight nose, a small mouth with full lips and a pronounced philtrum. Her chin is cleft, and her ears project to either side. Behind her head and upper body, a symmetrical arrangement of parallel grooves form a half-oval that could represent long hair or a mandorla. Behind the heads of both Christ and Mary are cross-haloes. There are other anomalies in the iconography of the Herefordshire School sculptors, and it is not surprising to find that the halo of the Fownhope Virgin is cruciform. The parallel folds of the robes of both figures are characteristic of the Herefordshire School, and at the hems they fall in regular flattened box-pleats. Each figure has a lower garment with wrinkled tubular sleeves ending in beaded cuffs, and a shawl-like mantle around the shoulders. Christ's feet are bare; the Virgin wears shoes.

On both sides of the central group are tangles of long, triple-reeded stems with furled leaves, multilobed and fluted with scalloped edges. At the lower left is a small bunch of grapes, suggesting vinescroll. Within the foliage are, to the left a bird with a long tail and long hooked beak, shown in right profile, and to the right a winged lion with mouth open to show pointed teeth, shown in left profile. They may be the symbols of St John and St Mark.


h of tympanum 0.77 m
thickness 0.21m
w. 1.78m (originally approx.1.86m)