Dating a sculpture
Roger’s nephew Alexander was to become Bishop of Lincoln, and his remodelling of the west front of Lincoln cathedral also includes beakhead ornament.(11) As well as this kind of courtly and dynastic transmission of the ornament, the beakhead used at major sites like Reading and Old Sarum was copied locally in parish churches, especially on doorways, but occasionally too on chancel arches and vault ribs, like those in the church of SS Mark & Luke at Avington, only some 20 miles from Reading (Figure 7).Although the deepest seams of beakhead are to be found in Oxfordshire (including for example Iffley, Barford St John, Cuddesdon and Burford) and Yorkshire (Healaugh, Brayton, Barton-le-Street and Stillingfleet for example), unsuspected links of patronage or emulation can throw up surprisingly rich displays in counties that are otherwise lacking in the motif.
The search for the origins of beakhead has led scholars like Zarnecki in the direction of Anglo- Saxon manuscript illumination, but there are obvious difficulties in accounting for the transmission of late 10th-century manuscript motifs into stone carving more than a century later, and without anything in the way of convincing intermediaries.Some of the finest Irish beakhead is found on the west doorway of the Nuns’ church at Clonmacnoise (Offaly), and it is unusual in that the roll clasped by the beasts’ heads is free-standing and gripped between their upper and lower jaws (Figure 2).(2) This treatment of the ornament has parallels with continental beakhead like that at Saint-Fort-sur-Gironde (Charente-Maritime) rather than with English examples, which led Zarnecki to suggest that the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella may have been an important factor in the introduction of the motif to Ireland.(3) On mainland Britain, beakhead is overwhelmingly English; there are no Welsh examples, and only one in Scotland – close to the English border at Kelso.Within England the distribution is extremely uneven.The rounded head of a beast is carved upside-down on the inner angle with a pair of scalloped leaves issuing from its mouth (Figure 4).Further decoration is often carved between the leaves: a pinecone, or sometimes a second head.(CRSBI) is a project to record the stone sculpture produced in these islands between 1066 and c1200, making it freely available on the internet in the form of photographs and descriptions.
Work began in 1989, under the inspiration of George Zarnecki and the CRSBI’s first chairman Peter Lasko.
His own fieldwork includes the counties of Berkshire, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Cheshire and Northampton, and he is currently working on Peterborough Cathedral.
He is the author of Bestiaries and their Users in the Middle Ages (Sutton 1998), and of numerous articles on medieval sculpture in Britain and Europe.
The south doorway of Avington church has a simple form of the beaker ornament, carved on the jambs,(14) and in the south doorway of Quenington church (Gloucesteshire), beaker-clasps alternate with bird beakheads in the arch (Figure 10).
Both of these examples are almost certainly versions of something copied from Reading by local sculptors.
Human heads occasionally appear, with their tongues or beards lying across the angle roll of the arch, as at Lincoln Cathedral, while on the chancel arch at Tickencote (Rutland) a rich variety of human, animal, monstrous and even foliate forms are given the beakhead treatment (Figure 1).(1) Beakheads appear in Romanesque sculpture in the British Isles, as well as in Anjou, Normandy and northern Spain.