Reynolds Gallery brings English history to Pacific with “A Rub with Death” etchings exhibit
On Friday, Nov. 13, black and white printed banners decorated the quaint room in the Reynolds Gallery. The prints display metalwork portraits of people ranging from knights to bishops and wives to children of the 15th century. “A Rub with Death: The Leppelmeier Collection” is an exhibition featuring brass rubbings and monumental brasses from Sussex, England during the 15th century.
The brass rubbings are a sheet of brass rubbed with paper by a medium such as a black wax heel ball to leave etchings on the metal. Although brass rubbings had been created or at least recorded since 1380, they became commonplace during this time period. The ornate monuments were used to honor the memory of the deceased, whether those people were important to the church or to their families.
The exhibit goes to great lengths to explain the symbolic details used in the brass rubbings and the meanings behind each one.
For example, class and decree could be pointed out on a rubbing by the way a person was dressed. Knights are captured wearing full armor, whereas bishops are adorned with a pastoral stave. The most distinguished elder in a brass rubbing can be identified by pointedness of toes and roundness of their hair from the center of their head.
When a man and woman, presumably a married couple, are seen on brass rubbings, positioning is crucial. The wife is always portrayed on the left side of her husband, with both members having their hands clasped in a praying position. Their children are pictured behind them, with boys on the husband’s side and girls on the wife’s in descending order.
Although fashion evolved as the centuries passed in the brass rubbings, symbols stayed consistent. A lion sitting at a man’s feet symbolizes generosity and courage. For a woman, a dog in that position represents fidelity.
To illustrate, in 1566 Sir Edward Gage, a Knight of Firle, is captured in a brass rubbing with his wife and four children. Wife and husband face each other with their hands clasped close to their chests, while their children line up behind them in the same position. At the time, Gage had commissioned an immigrant artist to make brass rubbings for his family; it later turned out the artist incorrectly positioned the women in all the rubbings. Oops!
Brass rubbings weren’t just for the faithful couple. One of the oldest effigies of a woman is that of Margaret de Camoys from 1310. She was married to Sir John Camoys but soon left him for another man. John not only agreed on the arrangement but assigned Margaret to Sir William Paynel (her lover) and allowed her to live with him until she died. The brass rubbing of Lady Camoy shows a full body image, adorned with nine enamel shields (that were sadly all stolen).
Brass rubbings are precious to English history because they capture the culture of that period. While rubbings never evolved with time, the world around them did.
During the 15th century, when the mad reign of Henry VII was at its peak, brass rubbings were looked at in terms of monetary value and no longer cultural preservation. Therefore, many rubbings created and placed in monasteries were taken by the Crown, and few remain to this day.
This exhibit offers a great opportunity to get personal with history and indulge in a piece of the English legacy left here today. The gallery is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. til Nov. 24.
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