Brass of the Month

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Copyright: Jon Bayliss

September 2016, Michael Hare, 1611, and two wives, Bruisyard, Suffolk

In the mid 1970s the late Peter Heseltine, an occasional contributor to this series, made a case for redating the large and impressive brass commemorating Dean Umphrey Tyndall in Ely Cathedral from the date of Tyndall's death, 1614, to one after 1638. He did this on the basis of the way the extensive heraldry on Tyndall's brass was depicted, which was in accordance with the rules published by Petra Sancta in 1638. These rules, stating that particular heraldic tinctures (colours) should be depicted by lines (horizontal, vertical and diagonal), cross-hatching or dots, became standard. Peter did conceded that Petra Sancta's publication had been preceded by rules published by Francquart in the 1620s and that that it was unlikely that Tyndall's executors waited twenty-four years before commissioning his brass.  However, a system similar to Petra Sancta's was published as early as 1600. A minor difference lay in the treatment of sable (black).  The publication was Representation de l'Ancienne et Souveraine Duche de Brabant, ses Villes, Dignitez et Dependences, Comme Lothier, Limborghe et Pays de Outre Meuse by Jean Baptiste Zangre, otherwise known as Zangrius. It took the form of a single large sheet showing hundreds of heraldic shields representing the towns, bishoprics, etc., of the Duchy of Brabant. Brabant occupied an area of the Low Countries, much of it now in Belgium but some in the Netherlands. There was an area of text below and to the right of this the key to the heraldry. Although a surviving example in the Helmond archive has been folded and placed between hard covers the sheet can be viewed as essentially a wall chart.

This month's brass has a contribution to make to the history of the depiction of heraldry.

    That the system came to the notice of one of the the Southwark workshops providing monumental brasses very shortly after its publication is not surprising, given that these workshops were founded by immigrants from the Low Countries. It is clear that not all the brasses with heraldry from this workshop were produced using the new system – those at Felbrigg in Norfolk, documented as being transported there in 1612, do not use it – but that commemorating Michael Hare and his two wives, Elizabeth Hubert and Mary Brudenell attempts it. Peter Heseltine's interest in the heraldry of monumental brasses led him to publish Heraldry on Brasses: The Mill Stephenson Collection of Shields in 1994, an invaluable tool for those interested in this area. According to this, the tinctures on first of the two surviving shields at Bruisyard are gules two bars and a chief indented or for Hare, quartering Gyronny of twelve or and azure. The latter charge is termed Bassingbourne but Hubert used the same charge. The other shield has Hare impaling argent a chevron between three caps azure for Brudenell. Other sources give the chevron of the latter as gules. According to Zangrius, or should be dotted rather than left plain but his system was designed for black printing on white paper rather than engraving a gold coloured surface, where it makes more sense to leave or blank. If this view is taken, then the charges for Hare and Hubert are good but something has gone badly wrong in respect of the Brudenell charge. The dotted chevron against a plain field implies an heraldic anathema: or and argent together. The chevron should have vertical lines for gules. The caps are depicted with shading rather than the horizontal lines that should be used for azure.

    Whereas the brass for Umphrey Tyndall at Ely was an important commission for the workshop, a life-size figure with extensive heraldry that was no doubt completed in-house, many other brasses would have been more likely to have been contracted to other craftsmen. Before the incorporation of the Marblers Company into that of the Masons in 1585, there were always more marblers than styles of brasses, suggesting the 'workshop' was that of the marbler providing the design and the engraving was often carried out by other marblers. If the details of the new system for depicting heraldry were not properly understood by craftsmen who were not co-located with the workshop head, there would be much scope for problems to arise. Where the patrons were being offered heraldry shown in a new way, there would not necessarily be any understanding that they were getting a faulty product.

    A less than usual aspect of the design of the Hare brass was the frontal stance of the wives. Michael's Hare's own effigy is lost but was presumably the standard man in civilian clothes produced by this workshop. The inscription is in black-letter, a late use but by no means an isolated example. The brass is set in a black 'marble' slab imported from Belgium, which had recently begun to be used in preference to the Sussex 'marble' that was used for the Felbigg brasses in 1612, although it may be that the patron was given a choice of the stone to be used, with Purbeck stone rather than Purbeck marble perhaps representing a third option, as may be the case with the Tyndall brass at Ely.    

The hatching table of Zangrius from his armorial chart (1600).

By Jean Baptiste Zangre [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Jan Baptist Zangrius:

Tyndall brass: Peter Heseltine, ‘An Alternative Date for the Brass of Dean Umphrey Tyndall 1614, Ely Cathedral’, Transactions of the Monumental Brass Society, Vol 13, Part 2 for 1976 (1978), pp. 169-173