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Allegorical Jousting (Psychomachia) : Claverley, Shropshire (‡Hereford) c.1200

Photos: T.Marshall
Allegorical Joust, Claverley, detail [81KB] Above and below are two details from the allegorical frieze at Claverley, showing knights jousting. EW Tristram believed, probably correctly, that these were battles between Virtues and Vices, deriving ultimately from the Psychomachia of the 4th century Latin Christian poet Prudentius.¹ As Tristram remarked, the frieze seems more appropriate for a medieval castle than a parish church, but Claverley church was ‘collegiate’ and served by the monks of nearby Quatford.² In Prudentius’s scheme, Chastity overcomes Lust, Patience Anger, Humility Pride, Temperance Luxury, Benificence Avarice, and Faith Discord.

It is difficult if not impossible to identify any specific pairing here, although perhaps the riderless white horse towards the right in the upper photograph, its rider (reduced to a patch of red representing his mail surcoat) lying on the ground below and its bridle flying ungrasped, may represent Luxury - certainly no other horse has such an elegant patterned saddle. There might, though, be better candidates for this pairing elsewhere (link above). To the left of this, the rider on the yellow horse has an eagle on his shield, but this detail may mean several things or nothing at all, as is the way with allegory. Similarly in the photograph below, it has been suggested that the unhorsed rider, legs in the air as he falls, is Pride, who disdained to use his bridle. Allegorical Joust, detail, Claverley [80KB]
In the spandrels below the frieze, more single Vice/Virtue combats are painted, this time between standing figures, with some of the Virtues shown as female; these seem to comment on and amplify the scenes above. The Virgin appears, with censing angels, as does the Manus Dei representing God, these latter intervening on behalf of the Virtues. But these paintings are extremely fragmentary and confusing now. They are though of the same date as the Joust above, and not 15th century, as information available in the church seems to imply. For more photographs and descriptions click here or on the link at the top of the page.

¹Tristram 1, pp.48-49
²Prudentius (348-410), for whom there was no greater triumph than that of the Passion of Christ and the Saints, was and remained a standard author for the medieval school curriculum. The monks would have been familiar with his ideas.(v. ER Curtius, trs. Willard R Trask, European Literature & the Latin Middle Ages, London, 1952, p. 49-50 & passim

Website for All Saints, Claverley

Purgatorial Ladder, with the Seven Deadly Sins, Chaldon, Surrey NEW
Passion Cycle, Ickleton, Cambs Painted Anglo-Saxon Inscription, Breamore, Hampshire Painted Rood (Crucifixion), Breamore Hampshire Suicide of Judas (later), Breamore, Hampshire Judgement with Apostles, Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk
Allegorical Joust, Claverley, Shropshire David overcoming the Lion/(repainted) Knight representing a Virtue, Copford, Essex Raising of Jairus’s daughter, Copford, Essex Martyrdom of S.Edmund & other subjects, Fritton, Norfolk Apostle or Prophet, Little Easton, Essex
Christ in Majesty, Kempley, Gloucestershire The Three Marys (Maries) at the sepulchre, Kempley, Gloucestershire The Fall & its Aftermath, Hardham, Sussex Life of St. James, Stoke Orchard, Gloucestershire Apostles & angels supporting Christ in Majesty, West Chiltington, Sussex
St. Martin dividing his cloak, Wareham, Dorset Christ in Majesty, with Judgement details, Clayton, Sussex King Herod & an attendant, and the Flight into Egypt, Coombes, Sussex NEW Christ in Majesty, with Traditio Legis & and illusionistic painted figure, Coombes, Sussex NEW

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Anne Marshall 2000