Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Flaxman in Cookham
Village churches are an recurrent source of unexpectedness. Hard on the scary sculpted cadaver in Hatfield, here is John Flaxman's consoling memorial to a gentleman who died suddenly, presumably from a stroke or cardiac arrest, while on the river Thames by his home in Cookham.
Enchantingly, Sir Isaac is shown wearing coat and breeches, as he must have died, reclining in a punt, gently lapped by river waves. He is held in a pieta pose by the Angel of Death, with encircling draperies to soften the Georgian garments, while a sturdy local ferryman punts the barque to a 'better state' across the Stygian waters to the afterlife or to oblivion. A nice blend of classical and Christian notions cast in Regency mode and rendered with perfect pictorial balance and exquisite relief by Flaxman's magisterial line. The widow's epigraph is pretty fine, too.
The churchyard outside is where Spencer famously set his scene of the Christian Resurrection. Graves today still await Day of Reckoning/Opening, but on a quiet sunny day it would seem a shame to disturb them.
I wonder what Spencer made of Flaxman's punt? though possibly he seldom went inside the parish church as I think his family were Dissenters. In the Cookham Museum is Spencer's last and unfinished painting of Christ preaching at the Regatta, with locals and holiday-makers in rows of punts. Christ and bearded, barefoot disciples all in Dissenting grey, sitting in basket chairs in the wide flat punt that was the horse-ferry when Spencer was young. It's not clear what the sermon - apparently to children and villagers not holiday-makers - was about, but presumably one or other of the Parables would fit the occasion...