Thornham Parva Retable

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The Thornham Parva Retable is a 15 feet (4.6 m) long medieval altarpiece, now in Thornham Parva, Suffolk, England. The retable is thought to have been created in the 1330s for a Dominican Priory. [1] It is the largest surviving altarpiece from the English Middle Ages.

Altarpiece Artwork (painting, sculpture or relief) behind the altar

An altarpiece is an artwork such as a painting, sculpture or relief representing a religious subject made for placing behind the altar of a Christian church. Though most commonly used for a single work of art such as a painting or sculpture, or a set of them, the word can also be used of the whole ensemble behind an altar, otherwise known as a reredos, including what is often an elaborate frame for the central image or images. Altarpieces were one of the most important products of Christian art especially from the late Middle Ages to the era of the Counter-Reformation.

Thornham Parva village in the United Kingdom

Thornham Parva is a village and civil parish in the Mid Suffolk district of Suffolk in eastern England. Located to the north of sister village Thornham Magna and around five miles south of Diss, in 2005 its population was 50. By the time of the 2011 Census populations of less than 100 were not maintained separately and this village was included in the population of Thornham Magna.

Retable appendages placed on the mensa of an altar in a Christian church

A retable is a structure or element placed either on or immediately behind and above the altar or communion table of a church. At the minimum it may be a simple shelf for candles behind an altar, but it can also be a large and elaborate structure. A retable which incorporates sculptures or painting is often referred to as an altarpiece.

Retable St.Marys Thornham Parva - geograph.org.uk - 542418.jpg

The retable survived the iconoclastic reformers of the 16th Century, who destroyed much of England's medieval culture, by being removed from its church. It was discovered in 1927 in a wood pile in a loft at Thornham Hall, belonging to a Suffolk landowner, Lord Henniker. He donated it to St Mary's Church, Thornham Parva, where his brother was parson.

St Marys Church, Thornham Parva Church in Suffolk, England

St Mary's Church is a medieval church in Thornham Parva, Suffolk, England. Much of the fabric dates from the 12th century, and it is a Grade I listed building. Originally the church served not only Thornham Parva but the neighbouring village of Thornham Magna, which is now a separate parish.

The Thornham Parva Retable has eight panels of saints in niches surrounding a Crucifixion. The origins of the retable were a puzzle but the images provides clues. The figures pinpointed links with the Dominican Order. At either end are St Dominic and St Peter Martyr, joint patrons of the Dominicans. St Catherine and St Margaret of Antioch were the order's mascots. The Apostles Peter and Paul, who were believed to have spoken to St Dominic, all point towards Dominican interest. The presence of Edmund the Martyr suggests an East Anglian link. John the Baptist's figure might seem more obscure, but the benefactors of the Dominican Priory at Thetford, John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey and Edmund Gonville would have expected their namesakes to be part of the finished painting.

Dominican Order Roman Catholic religious order

The Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominican Order, is a mendicant Catholic religious order founded by the Spanish priest Dominic of Caleruega in France, approved by Pope Innocent III via the Papal bull Religiosam vitam on 22 December 1216. Members of the order, who are referred to as Dominicans, generally carry the letters OP after their names, standing for Ordinis Praedicatorum, meaning of the Order of Preachers. Membership in the order includes friars, nuns, active sisters, and affiliated lay or secular Dominicans.

Catherine of Alexandria Egyptian missionary, saint depicted with a wheel

Saint Catherine of Alexandria, or Saint Katharine of Alexandria, also known as Saint Catherine of the Wheel and The Great Martyr Saint Catherine, is, according to tradition, a Christian saint and virgin, who was martyred in the early 4th century at the hands of the pagan emperor Maxentius. According to her hagiography, she was both a princess and a noted scholar, who became a Christian around the age of 14, converted hundreds of people to Christianity, and was martyred around the age of 18. More than 1,100 years after Catherine's martyrdom, Joan of Arc identified her as one of the saints who appeared to and counselled her.

Edmund the Martyr King of East Anglia from about 855 until death in 869

Edmund the Martyr was king of East Anglia from about 855 until his death.

It is believed that a altar frontal now in the Musée de Cluny in Paris was once associated with the Thornham Parva retable as a single decorative fixture. [2] The hypothesis is that they became separated when Henry VIII dissolved the Friary in 1538. The Thetford Priory contained a statue of the Virgin which was claimed to work miracles and the frontal shows scenes from the life of the Virgin.

Antependium decorative piece, usually of textile, but also metalwork, stone or other material that can adorn a Christian altar.

An antependium, also known as a parament or hanging, or, when speaking specifically of the hanging for the altar, an altar frontal, is a decorative piece, usually of textile, but also metalwork, stone or other material that can adorn a Christian altar.

Musée de Cluny Museum in Paris, France

The Musée de Cluny, also known as Musée national du Moyen Âge – Thermes et hôtel de Cluny, is a museum in Paris, France. It is located in the 5th arrondissement at 6 Place Paul-Painlevé, south of the Boulevard Saint-Germain, between the Boulevard Saint-Michel and the Rue Saint-Jacques. The museum is built atop the ancient Thermes de Cluny, baths from the Roman era of Gaul.

The retable returned to St Mary's Church, Thornham Parva, in 2003, following eight years of restoration by the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge. [3] Using sturgeon glue, applied with tiny dabs of cotton buds, inch by inch the layers of grime were removed to reveal rich gold and glowing autumnal palette of translucent reds, purples and greens which the original artist used.

Hamilton Kerr Institute

The Hamilton Kerr Institute is a branch of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridgeshire, England, dedicated to the study and conservation of easel paintings. It is also part of the University of Cambridge.

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References

  1. The Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge has restored a 15-ft long medieval altarpiece, History Today , 2003.
  2. Dominican Painting in East Anglia: The Thornham Parva Retable and the Musee de Cluny Frontal. Norton, Park and Binski.
  3. "Medieval altarpiece is restored". BBC News. 20 February 2003. Retrieved 11 January 2017.