Church Monuments in Romantic England

Nicholas Penny

Publicaton Date
May 1977
Standard Number
Yale University Press
256 pages

The sculpture of the late years of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth has been one of the most neglected fields in British art. Based on much original material gleaned from contemporary wills and letters as well as close examination of the sculptures themselves, this imaginative survey of British commemorative sculpture between 1780 and 1840 finally gives this important period the attention it deserves. 

Nicholas Penny discusses the work of such sculptors as Chantrey, Flaxman, Nollekens, Roubiliac, the Bacons, and the Westmacotts. He deals in depth with their background and working methods and with their relationships with their patrons. Tracing the rise and spread of various artistic conventions which were adopted for commemorating the dead, he shows how changing religious ideas were reflected in the monuments to public figures of every kind – not only churchmen but teachers, physicians, philanthropists, landowners, agricultural reformers, and industrialists. Penny demonstrates how dynastic pride was measured against domestic sentiment as a motive for the creation of mortuary chapels and mausolea. A study of the increasing popularity of explicitly devotional attitudes in monuments, and of reliefs showing both the ascending soul and guardian angels, leads to an account of the gradual revival of the Gothic style and the fashion for sleeping figures, which concluded with the convergence of these two themes in the recumbent effigies of gothic revival monuments in the 1840s.

Penny combines the history of art with the religious, literary, and social history of the times thus giving us new insights into art and life in England in the age of Romanticism.