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Seven Deadly Sins

Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Corporal Works of Mercy:

Help with Searching the Database

The data base is built up from material in published sources and from personal knowledge. In relevant instances the source of information is cited. Given the age of much of this documentation and the problems of 'reading' some of these damaged wall paintings it is not always possible to be certain about even basic facts such as date or the gender of figures.

What follows here is detailed information on many of the search terms and types of records, explaining the sources on which they are based and the reasons for their inclusion.

Village/ Church Name

Click on the church name for further information. This text includes a brief description of other paintings in the church, an analysis of the current state of the painting, a bibliography (in chronological order), the date the paintings were uncovered and dating and architectural evidence. Where possible there is also an enlargement of the thumbnail.

The twenty churches covered in the database are:
Arundel, Brooke, Catfield, Dalham, Hardwick, Hoxne, Hunworth, Ingatestone, Kentford, Kingston, Milcomb, Milton Abbas, Netherbury, Oddington, Quatt, Ruabon, Ruislip, Stanningfield, Trotton.

Dedication

Not all dedications can be confirmed from medieval documents, but where possible, the dedication of the church at the time of the paintings has been given.

Advowson

Where possible, this section gives the main holder of the advowson of the church in the period in which the paintings were executed. Where a Victoria County History volume is available, this has been used, otherwise the older antiquarian material has been relied on.

Medieval Diocese

This describes the diocese at the probable time of the painting (the Anglo-Saxon dioceses on the one hand and post-Reformation dioceses on the other may not be the same).

The following dioceses are included in this study:
Chichester, Norwich, London, Ely, Hereford, St Asaph, Lincoln, Salisbury, Worcester

Hundred

Where possible this information is taken from the Victoria County History. In other instances, directories and other antiquarian material have been used. This term is included to help with searches of older material arranged by Hundred and to give a sense of the locality of the churches.

Current County

This is included to assist with the location of the churches. A list of the counties included has been provided.

Pre 1974 County

County boundaries have been subject to major alteration in the last twenty five years. The pre-1974 counties remain the basic unit by which much scholarly work is arranged, most notably the Buildings of England series. A list of the counties included has been provided.

Ordnance Survey Reference

These are six figure references based on the Ordnance Survey Grid. They should be accurate to 100 metres.

Position

This is given as precisely as possibly, listing first the part of the church, then the wall and then any further details about the relationship of the painting to doors and windows. In the case of lost paintings, references may necessarily be inexact.

Other Paintings

Where possible, the location is followed by the subject matter and a brief indication of date. In some cases these paintings are part of the same scheme as the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Corporal Works of Mercy, in other cases they may belong to older or more recent schemes and thus were not necessarily visible at the same time as the morality paintings.

Date from and to

All dates are given in the form of the parameters of a ‘date from’ and ‘a date to’. In most cases this is a period of twenty years. The review of dating evidence explains the factors on which these judgements have been based. In the case of some lost paintings, we are reliant on the judgements of earlier writers.

Schema

This is refers to the basic arrangement of the material, for example, as a tree, wheel or series of scenes. For further details see schema.

The following schema are represented in the database:
?central angel, clothed man, naked man, ?naked man, riding on animals, scenes, ?scenes, tree, ?tree, wheel, ?wheel, ?woman

Additional Motifs

A list of the more common motifs have been supplied. As well as the basic schema many of these paintings contain additional figures which demonstrate the consequences of acting in a moral or immoral way. For example, paintings of the Seven Deadly Sins at Catfield, Dalham, Ingatestone, Quatt, Ruislip and Trotton include or included the Mouth of Hell. Ancillary demons, either tempting the sinners or propelling them into Hell are shown at Catfield, Ingatestone, Hoxne, Kingston, Oddington and Trotton.

In this lithograph of a lost painting from Felsted in Essex, demons (which rather resemble monkeys in this image), are shown tempting the avaricious man, while a further two demons saw through the Tree of Sin. Below the Jaws of Hell gape open to receive the Tree and the Sinners. The motif of the sawing demons is present at Hoxne in Suffolk.

(Benton and Montagu (1926), opposite 32)

(click image to enlarge)

 

Some additional motifs are particularly associated with Pride, often depicted as the chief or root of the other sins. For example, this sin is sometimes accompanied by a tabor player and trumpeters, as at Ruislip and in this engraving of a late-fourteenth-century Tree of the Seven Deadly Sins, formerly at Bardwell in Suffolk.

Another detail associated with Pride found at Ruislip is the figure of Death piercing Pride with a spear and thus demonstrating the wages of Sin. This detail is more common in the schema which shows a woman as the source of the sins, for example, that at Raunds in Northamptonshire.

(Dunlap (1852), plate accompanying)

(click image to enlarge)

A similar range of motifs is found in paintings of the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy. Angels assist those performing the Works at Ruabon and in the lost paintings at Quatt. At Kingston the Wheel of the Works is supported or turned by angels, while at Arundel an angel is shown in the centre of the Wheel. The painting at Dalham may include a large central angel. While the painting at Cropredy is said to have included attendant angels. At Oddington it appears that angels, rather than mortals, are shown performing the works.

Divine approval is suggested by the inclusion of images such Christ Blessing, found in the mid-fourteenth-century cycles at Moulton St Mary and Wickhampton in Norfolk and possibly at Kingston, and Quatt. In fifteenth-century stained glass at Coombs in Sufolk, angels bless the man and woman who perform the Works (Woodforde (1950), 195).

The message about the ultimate destination of sinners and the the righteous was sometimes enforced by the inclusion of images related to the Last Judgement. This is clearest in the painting at Trotton, where a central figure of Christ is seated on a rainbow above a rare depiction of Moses holding the tablets of the Law (the Ten Commandments). The soul of the good man is welcomed, while that of the evildoer is turned away and the Latin texts record Christ’s words at the Last Judgement. One puzzling aspect of this painting is the fact that the good man is shown on Christ’s left hand and the evildoer on His right. This contradicts the traditional account of the Last Judgement in which the saved are on Christ’s right hand and the damned on his left. It is not clear whether the reversal at Trotton is due to a misunderstanding or whether the painter, probably more used to depicting this subject on the east wall, thought that the side of the church on which Heaven and Hell were painted which was more significant than their positions relative to the central figure of Christ.

It appears that the paintings at Quatt may have formed a similar scheme on the nave east wall, while the paintings at Hoxne and Oddington are adjacent to contemporary images of the Last Judgement.

The following search terms are suggested:
angel, devil, Christ in Judgement, Mouth of Hell, attendant, trumpeter, Death

Judgement group in centre of Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Corporal Works of Mercy
(M. Gill)

(click image to enlarge)

 

Date uncovered

Since virtually all British wall paintings were covered with whitewash at the Reformation and only subsequently uncovered in building, restoration (or demolition!) work, the approximate date of discovery has been included where possible. Some paintings, such as those at Hardwick and Hoxne, have been uncovered twice.

Extant

In some cases this is reliant on published information. Paintings do sometimes deteriorate to such an extent that they are deliberately (or even unwittingly) covered up.

Bibliography

This lists monographs chronologically, and then material in more general works. Works referred to frequently are presented in the form of brief citations. See the Brief Citations and Bibliography page.

Architectural Evidence

The aim is to give an impression of the size and age of the church and to suggest how the paintings may relate to programmes of building work. In many instances, only general identifications of a style or probable century are provided by the Buildings of England series.

State of the Painting

These entries are based on descriptions, photographs and personal knowledge. British wall paintings often survive in a fragmentary condition. Paintings are obscured by a range of factors including architectural alterations, over-enthusiastic uncovering, waxy coatings, salts and microbiological growth.

Element of Sin or Work of Mercy

These are identified from the following lists.

Seven Deadly Sins

Pride
Avarice
Envy
Anger
Lust
Gluttony
Sloth

Seven Corporal Works of Mercy

Feed the hungry
Give drink to the thirsty
Welcome the stranger
Clothe the naked
Visit the sick
Visit the prisoner
Bury the dead

Some paintings also include fragments of elements which cannot be securely identified. These are discussed in the section on the State of the Painting.

Times depicted

It is assumed that all the images of the Deadly Sins originally included all Seven elements, although in some cases, only a few sins survive or can be identified. In the case of the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy, some images in other media (most famously, the stained glass window of c.1439 at All Saints, North St, York), show only the six works mentioned in the Gospel. However, there is no trace of such Biblical literalism in the wall paintings recorded here. This search term is relevant for several paintings, such as that at Catfield, where Pride is shown twice: at the top of the Tree and falling into the Mouth of Hell.

This drawing based on a water-colour of a fragment of a painting of the Tree of Sin on the west wall of St John's Bristol, shows this detail, which can be compared with the painting at Catfield.

Coloured pencil drawing by M. Gill, based on water-colour: London, Society of Antiquaries, Red portfolio, Somerset, fol. 10

(click image to enlarge)

Number of Figures

Sometimes a single figure represents a Sin, but scenes of the Works of Mercy necessarily include at least two figures. In damaged scenes, the number of figures clearly shown is recorded, but there may have been more originally.

Gender of Main Figure

Both male and female figures are used to represent Pride in British wall painting. However, it seems that male figures predominate. This is particularly striking in this sample, which includes only one tentatively identified female personification of Pride at Ruabon.

This engraving of the painting at Raunds in Northamptonshire (c.1390-1410) shows the most common schema for a female figure Pride.

Waller (1877), plate opposite, p.133

(click image to enlarge)

Even when Pride is female, the individual Sins are overwhelmingly male. Only occasionally does it appear that a woman is used to illustrate a particular sin, for example, the figure of Envy tearing her hair at Ruislip.

With images of the Corporal Works of Mercy, the reverse is true. Over half the total corpus shows female figures performing the works. Some paintings show the same figure. Others show differentiated female figures, or, as at Ruabon and Trotton, male and female figures.

The ‘main figure’ is defined as the one most clearly committing the Sin or performing the good work, but other figures may be shown assisting. For some elements the distinction is difficult to make. In the case of Lust, where two figures are depicted, I have consistently described the male as the ‘main figure’, although some paintings stress his dominance, while others are more equal in their presentation.

This detail shows the image of Lust in the painting at Raunds.
(M.Gill)

(click image to enlarge)

In the case of Burying the Dead I have tried to identify the figure of the benefactor, often shown assisting in the funeral. However, where this is not possible, the priest, typically depicted in the centre of the composition with an asperge may be identified as the main figure.

Secondary Figures

In images of the Seven Deadly Sins these may be less prominent representatives of the same vice. For example, the painting at Trotton shows one figure of Gluttony drinking and another vomiting. In other instances, these secondary figures may be included to set a scene. For example, the painting at Ingatestone includes a unique representation of Envy as men presenting presumably false evidence in a court of law. For representations of Lust, see the remark above.

In the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy, the secondary figure is usually the recipient. In contrast to the preponderance of women among the benefactors, the recipients are overwhelmingly, although not exclusively, male. In some instances secondary benefactors or assistants are also included, holding further items.

Attributes of Main Figure

Where possible details of dress, head covering and hair style are included. In male figures, the presence of a beard may indicate age. In female figures, uncovered hair suggests an unmarried woman, a head-dress suggests a wife and a veil and wimple a matron or a widow. Details of dress may also suggest status.

In the Seven Deadly Sins, attributes usually relate to the vices. Some attributes are predictable, for example, avarice has money or moneybags and gluttony a tankard or a sick bowl. In other instances, different traditions are evident. For example, Anger is characterised either by two young men brawling or by a figure committing suicide. The latter image ultimately derives from a different visual tradition, that of the Psychomachia of the fourth-century poet Prudentius, where Desperatio is represented as a suicide.

This detail from Raunds shows Anger stabbing himself.
(M.Gill)

(click image to enlarge)

In the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy, the attribute is commonly the donor’s gift. It is interesting that in some instances money is depicted instead of the obvious attribute (See Findings).

Suggested terms:

Accessories: asperge, bag, barrel, book, bowl, bread, coins, comb, coverlet, cup, flagon, food, garment, hearse, jug, jewels, knife, lid, looking glass, money bags, object, pillow, pot, rosary, sceptre, shroud, staff, swords
Actions: brawling, drinking, embracing, enthroned, fighting, giving, kissing, lying, riding, sleeping, stabbing, vomiting, wrestling
Animals: deer, dog, donkey, goat, horse, lion
Appearance: bearded, beardless, moustache, profile
Buildings: church,door, house
Costume: cap, cap of maintenance, court dress, fine clothes, glove, gown, ruffled veil, shoe, square veil, veil
Furniture: bed, beam, chest, bed, table
Inspiration: angel, devil
Parts of the Body: cheek, chin, hand, heart, teeth, hands, (left hand, right hand), hip, shoulder, side, stomach, thigh
Roles: cleric, king, lawyer, queen, suicide

Attribute of Secondary Figure

These may provide further instances of the Sin or set the scene.

Suggested terms:

Attribute of Secondary Figure (s): Separate page of suggested terms
Accessories: bowl, coverlet, crutch, hearse, rosary, shovel, staff, sword, pickaxe, wooden leg
Actions: drinking, brawling, crowning, embracing, fighting, gathering, holding, kissing, kneeling, suppporting, swearing, vomiting, wrestling, yawning
Appearance: bareheaded, bearded, beardless, crowned, disconsolate, naked, tattered
Buildings: castle, chapel, church, house, stocks, wall
Costume: hat, gown, loin cloth Furniture: beam, bed, table
Inspiration: angel, devil, mouth of Hell
Parts of the Body: back, face, mouth
Roles: cleric, grave digger, lay, pilgrim, witness

Inscription Language

Many of the paintings contained inscriptions, although the majority are very fragmentary. An attempt has been made to suggest the language used, even when insufficient text remains to make out individual inscriptions.

The following terms describe the inscription:
Indecipherable, Latin, French, English, None, Latin and English

Text

These are often badly damaged and in some cases, the text recorded here is based on earlier records.

Position Number

1 to 7, or blank.

These are included in order to make it easier to compare the format of different schemes, possibly enabling the identification of the sources of images and the relationships between them.

For consistency the following conventions were adopted:

The fact that these conventions were chosen is not intended to imply that the images were always read in this way. Rather the aim was to develop a standard format from which issues of reading could be addressed. (See Findings).

 

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Last updated: 20/12/2001
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