Green Man

Wild West Yorkshire, Saturday 4 December 2010

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Green Man

A SKETCHCRAWL today at Wakefield Cathedral gives me a chance to draw this 500 year old Green Man carved in oak on one of the misericords. Misericord comes from the Latin, miser, meaning to have mercy or pity and cord or cor, heart. A misericord could be a dagger for dealing a death stroke - an extreme example of putting someone out of their misery - an apartment in a monastery where some of the rules could be relaxed or, in this case, a hinged seat that could also act as a support when standing through long services.

The misericords in the choir at Wakefield also feature carvings of oak leaves, a Tudor rose, a pelican (a symbol of charity), an ox, an angel and a tumbler peering cheekily at us through his legs, a carved leaf covering his anus. There's also a shield with a fetterlock symbol - it looks like a pair of handcuffs - which was a symbol of the Yorkists. Some of the carvings date from Victorian and Edwardian restorations but the early Tudor carvings of c. 1500, such as the tumbler and this green man, are remarkably fresh and lively.

mugI occurs to me that the sculptors who produced these carvings would have lived through the tail-end of the Wars of the Roses which ended with the death of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485. I feel that in some ways they had one foot in the medieval world and one in our modern world, as the events of the Tudor dynasty did so much to shape our present-day institutions and secular attitudes.

There's an earthy vigour about this Tudor green man that is missing from an equally accomplished but more polished and anatomically correct green man on another of the misericords, carved during a mid-Victorian restoration in 1860.

I think of the Tudor wood carver as being a down-to-earth craftsman rather than a member of an aesthetic elite. If wood-carving was as crisp and confident as this in 1500 then popular music and street theatre must have been pretty lively too. This green man looks at us from the end of the medieval tradition but he wouldn't be out of place amongst the rustics and earth spirits of Shakespeare's plays; characters like Bottom the Weaver and Caliban.

Right: that essential of any Sketchcrawl, a large mug of latte, this one at the Mocca Moucho near the Cathedral.

Link: Wakefield Sketch

Richard Bell, illustrator

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