Figurative & Pictorial Graffiti

Examples of figurative art among graffiti corpora are relatively common but no more straight forward to interpret than some of the more enigmatic ‘abstract’ symbols often found carved into church masonry. A face emerges from the tower crossing of St Clement’s in Sandwich with the application of raking light to bring out the detail. Sometimes there are tantalising clues in the apparel; is the line around the back of the skull meant to represent a hair style or the outline of a cap? Is the second arc above it showing a similar detail? Is that a central parting? Frustratingly, many of these graffiti images were only ever partially executed or have been weathered or eroded over time. The MGS Volunteer hand book suggests that many such images are, ‘stylised to the point of caricature’ – this could be also said of this face – which is almost cartoon-like in appearance. The figure was noted by Tatton-Brown during his survey of the church in 1993 which suggested that the lines may have been preparatory drawings for paintings below the Rood. The idea that the graffiti figures represent outlines for future painted decoration was taken up by Scott (2018) during a survey of pictorial graffiti recorded in Rochester Cathedral. However, close examination showed that there was no evidence for ochre or paint caught within the grooves of the graffito. His study also made the argument that it was possible to see a ‘cohesive’ 13th century ‘figurative scheme’ among the Cathedral corpus which showed close affinities with those at St Clement’s and other churches in the south-east England, perhaps stretching as far north as St Albans (Scott 2018).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s