Sussex Church Monuments c. 1530 -1830

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of History, Art History & Philosophy

Abstract

How did our ancestors die and what role did the visual arts play in their commemoration? These are questions that have received a good deal of scholarly and public attention in recent years. One of the most remarkable categories of historical evidence that can be cited in relation to death and commemoration is the monuments that were erected in their thousands in parish churches across the country in the long early modern period. The purpose of my current project is to undertake a deep analysis of the church monuments that exist in one region -the county of East Sussex- to trace trends in the form that the monuments take both over time and within social categories and also to analyse the kinds of commemorative texts that were displayed on the monuments.
Why did certain families spend lavishly on expensive monuments using imported foreign marbles when their social peers in adjacent parishes were content with simple floor tablets in local freestone or cast-iron? Why did some bereaved individuals think it appropriate to have long, passionate inscriptions engraved on the monuments for their loved ones when others were content simply with initials and a date? How did individuals and families commemorate family-members who died abroad in the course of establishing Britain's colonial possessions?
How were local materials used and valued? How did local tomb-makers respond to increasingly active competition from prestigious artists based in London?
How do the church monuments of Sussex reflect religious difference and belief in the generations following the Reformation?
The book will include a CD storing almost 2000 digital photographs, which will allow researchers direct access to the epigraphy and lettering of inscriptions and to the visual details of the monuments themselves, for example, carver's signatures, characteristic details of ornament and evidence of restorations. A digital survey of this scale will permit the first ever detailed history of English monumental lettering and indeed the survey will be of value to historians of many kinds: for example, scholars of art, religion, genealogy, heraldry, society, theology, family and local history. To my knowledge, no survey of this kind has ever been attempted and the publication of the results will allow public access to a considerable body of original material currently scattered in inaccessible locations and increasingly vulnerable to neglect.

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