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and most certainly have nothing to do with St. John, and are never so given as his device.
I feel it necessary to add a few words in reference to what Mr. Hope has stated and given in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, pp. 171, &c. In support of his view as to the English character of the retable, he cites the opinions (privately expressed to him) of certain competent critics, but as these are given without any evidence on which they may have been formed, they cannot be accepted as conclusive. It is by evidence only that the school of a work of art is determined, and we are dealing with conventional art, and to the conventions I have appealed. He further says, “The hesitation to assign an English origin to the painting no doubt arises from our want of knowledge of English art consequent upon the wholesale destruction of examples of it.” It is an unfortunate admission, and is not accurate. There plenty of examples extant in MSS. and even in wall paintings, to settle this question. The Litlington Missal itself, belonging as it does to the same period, is quite sufficient for the purpose of comparison. But there are many examples of the Crucifixion of the same date, so that it presents no difficulty, and to these I am ready to appeal. I am happy to agree with Mr. Hope that the work was done at Norwich-it is a matter of common sense : but when he talks about the frame-work being “carved and fixed in place before the painting was begun” he is trespassing upon the province of the artist, and it is not usual for an artist to commit so great a mistake as to put unnecessary difficulties in his own way. Besides, there is absolute evidence by marks of overlapping that the frame-work was put on afterwards, and the work in relief, of which I have a practical knowledge, could not possibly have been executed after the application of the frame.
Mr. Hope says, “The use of imitation Arabic letters upon which Mr. Waller lays great stress in support of an Italian origin for the painting, differs from that seen in every Italian picture in our National Gallery." I think it quite unnecessary to do more than refer to Figs. 4, 5, 6, where, side by side, are shewn examples from the National Gallery with one from Norwich, where the identity is surely clear enough to the meanest capacity. But there are other features, even more important, that tell the same story, which I need only refer to as Figs. 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, and, in the two last, I have shown what is English and what is not.
It matters little to my argument to what nationality the painter might belong, his work must be judged by its details.
That a painter of Norwich should leave the conventions of the English school and take up with those belonging to that of Italy, can only be accepted by the supposition that he had studied there. That the painter at Norwich and the painter at Karlstein should exhibit, in the same subject, and with a similar convention as shown in Figs. 2, 3, which is unknown to English work of the time, is not quite consistent ; and a comparison of what is known with the unknown is always the most successful mode of identification of a work of art.
One may here allude to Henry Spencer, Bishop of Norwich, whose warlike propensities carried him to Italy in support of the Pope Urban, and in his retinue, either to or from, an artist might easily have been. In the fourteenth century nearly every large city had formed art guilds, following the lead of Venice, where painters, sculptors, workers in metal, carvers, and gilders, worked together under the general name of artificers, and it must have been from such a workshop that the makers of the retable came, for at least three must have been employed. It is interesting also to know that these fraternities worked so in harmony that there are instances in which both the painter, carver, and gilder, all have their names inscribed upon the work in equality. Out of these workshops some arose to eminence, but of course by far the greater number left no name behind them.
The most interesting of the other subjects at St. Michael at Plea is the Annunciation, and this is so thoroughly Flemish in character that I must put it down to one of that school. The Virgin is kneeling at a fald-stool, wearing a rich under-dress of gold diaper, over which is a blue mantle lined with ermine, to indicate her royal descent. The face is remarkable for its sweet and modest expression; the hair is auburn, which colour was at one time much affected in religious art, and she is veiled as usual. The angel Gabriel has an upraised red wing, and wears a purple mantle over the usual alb, &c., and both hands appear to hold the staff. But the mutilations make many parts obscure. Above, seen through an opening, is shown the meeting with Elizabeth, and the introduction of this incident is one that mostly belongs to foreign inedieval art. The fald-stool is covered with a green cloth, and hanging beneath appears what seems to be a dish, and, if so, must be interpreted as for alms. In a recess of the same are two stopped vials, which one would hesitate, without further study, to explain or to state one's opinion upon, as such are of very unusual introduction.
Of the rest of the figures preserved, that of St. Erasmus is in the best condition. It is represented in the usual manner with the emblem of the windlass. The drapery is treated much in the Flemish manner as shown in its folds. St. Margaret is given as standing upon the dragon, symbolizing her victory over it according to the legend. Her face seems to have been represented as beautiful, but the mutilations have obscured it to some degree. It is of inferior work to the others, so cannot be put down to the same hand, but must be classed with what are commonly found on the screens of the Eastern counties. The other figures do not require any particular remark, but in general all are inferior in their technical management.
All these productions of the fifteenth century are painted in oil.
[Note by the Editorial Secretary.—The Painted “Tabula” from Norwich Cathedral was (by kind permission of the Very Rev. the Dean) deposited, with other similar objects of art, during the summer of 1896 in the rooms of the Society of Antiquaries of London. The writers of the two foregoing papers read communications on the subject to the Fellows of that Society, which will be found in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, second series, vol. xvi. pp. 123 and 164. They have now kindly remodelled their notes for the Society most interested in this valuable relic, and their views are all the more noticeable because the two writers ably set forth two different theories as to the nationality of the workmanship].