St Mark's Hamilton Terrace - a Church with Mosaics

St Mark's Hamilton Terrace.

St Mark’s Hamilton Square is of interest to these pages for its excellent collection of mosaics.

It was put up in the 1840s by the architect Thomas Cundy and his son, Thomas Cundy II, with a chancel by E. B. Ferrey in 1878, and a rebuild of the steeple (the main contribution of the younger Cundy) in 1955 after WW2 damage. The exterior is a handsome Gothic structure, with tall, crocketed (i.e. toothy) pinnacles, charming little roofs, and a rough stone with something of an excess over the usual amount of stone edging, which gives a varied texture and depth to the building once a goodly layer of grime has engrained itself on the less exposed parts of the surface. The main feature, however, is the tower, with its multi-sided stone steeple, sharply angular, on top, and this seems characteristic of Cundy churches, for St Michael’s Chester Square and St Gabriel Warwick Square and St Barnabas in Pimlico have rather similar towers. Inside, the church is light and bright.

Interior of St Mark's.

Inside, we would not particularly expect a church of this date to have that much by way of monuments, unless it replaced an earlier church on the site, for marble monuments were already on the decline by 1840. But decorative schemes are another matter, witness the churches of Butterfield and GE Street, for example, and here the decoration and the modern monuments are combined in the form of mosaic.

Mosaic decoration in churches is not uncommon, and even extensive decorative schemes in mosaic can be found, for example in London are Westminster Cathedral (RC, not Westminster Abbey), the chapel in St Stephen’s Rochester Row, and the great mosaic after a design by G. F. Watts in St James the Less, Vauxhall Bridge Road. Outside of London, Leeds Parish Church springs to mind, and the baldachino of St Bartholomew’s Church in Brighton. Actual memorials decorated with large scale mosaic, however, are vanishingly rare, though minor mosaic decoration is found from time to time on small wall monuments from the 1880s, and again in Arts and Crafts work from around 1900. St Mark’s, however, has several monuments based around a mosaic picture. Added to this is a pulpit with six mosaic panels.

The memorial plaques are dated, thus we have the ages of the mosaics, with several around 1900, one from 1938, and one from 1944. The pulpit is Victorian, with commemorations at the base of the mosaics from the 1870s.

Pulpit mosaics, 1870s.

Pulpit mosaics: There are six of them, depicting saints, in conventional pose, that is to say standing, each in his own niche, with a gold mosaic background, and a depiction of a tiled floor at the base to root the figure so that there is no sense of free floating, and the Saint’s name. The material, as with almost all the St Mark’s mosaics, is Italian Smalti, and at the time the Pulpit was made, such mosaics would have come from the Salviati manufactury, though the actual artist is another matter. The proportions and treatment of the drapery of the figures is, as we would expect from Victorian times, very correct, but the treatment is rather simple, with the aim of high visibility and contrast even from a distance – as is appropriate for a pulpit, which is intended to provide a setting for the cleric delivering a sermon rather than to be examined closely. Thus the main areas of colour, hands and faces are outlined with thin black mosaic, and there is attention to the overall silhouette. The laying of the mosaics is moderately traditional in the treatment of the eyes and the tendency, originating in Roman mosaics, to have a single line of mosaic which follows the exterior contours of the figure, which is distinct from the straight lines of the rest of the background, but the rest of the laying is purely Victorian. The mosaic designs were formed using a Reverse technique, which results in a completely flat work with no angling of the individual tesserae. The overall effect is illustrative, recalling the line drawings of the many books published by the Religious Tract Society, but this is not to take away from the technical skill of the mosaics, for example in the economical but perfectly expressed shape of the hands of St Mark.

Inman and Dupin mosaics, 1900s.

The earlier group of Memorial mosaics date from 1900-1903. The panels to Margaret Bartley, Norman Shanks Kerr, Janet Susannah Inman and the long panel to Charles Dupin D… showing 'Christ as Shepherd' with a flock of sheep, all are in a similar technique to the Pulpit, and form a nice group in terms of variation on this theme. The Bartley piece shows a female saint with several children gathered around her, three praying, two in her arms, and is rather sentimental for modern taste. Note the softer, more rounded forms of the drapery compared to the Pulpit mosaics, and the rich effect of the multiple borders and more complex background. The Inman figure is a pair with the Bartley one, but the female face has more character and the use of the mosaics to show the changing surfaces is more sophisticated. The Kerr mosaic is a long panel showing the Good Samaritan, and thus has a group of two figures, with the figure who walked by in the background. The treatment of shade is much less careful, but here the emphasis is on texture, and there is a depth and perspective to the picture rather than the single dimension of the Bartley figure, which is a purely decorative treatment. The hands, faces, and exposed body of the fallen man are treated with much care, with the lines of mosaics used to show the musculature of stomach, arms and cheeks. There is thus much more solidity and character to these figures. The Dupin figure of Christ in a landscape with sheep is back to the illustrative, and although the picture is apparently three dimensional, the artist actually creates a single plain in front of the background, a device used with great sophistication by Alma Tadema in his paintings. Despite the date, this panel hearkens back to a Victorian sweetness.

Frances Amelia Green, Arts and Crafts mosaic, 1899.

The Frances Amelia Green panel, also from 1899, is a contrast. Here we have a clearly Arts and Crafts design, both in the choice of colours, and in the symmetry of the wings and the stars on the angel’s dress, the cut of the clothes and the curvaceous lines of the landscape on which she stands. Notice the free treatment of the hands and the loose hair, in contrast to the careful proportions of the previous pieces we have looked at. With a bright light of the right sort, an effect of glitter and precious jewelledness is obtained, dear to the heart of the Arts and Crafts artist. An enjoyable work.

One of the panels to Revd. Charles Erskine, d.1905.

The triptych to the Revd. Charles Erskine, d.1905, is again Arts and Crafts, but the treatment could not be more different. This really is a remarkable use of mosaic, with a sophisticated cutting of the tesserae in multi-sided shapes for the heads and parts of the wings of the angels which avoids lines of mosaic in favour of a much freer treatment. The tight packing of the dark coloured mosaic of the wings gives an iridescent, jewelled effect, and this is combined with the use of larger pieces of mother of pearl for the halo and flooring, Opus Sectile if you will. It is hard to imagine such an intensity of colour and depth and movement being conveyed in other materials or in paint. The resting knight in the central panel wears an imaginative spiky armour which recalls the Art Nouveau of the sculptors George Frampton and Alfred Drury. A truly exquisite piece.

Marie Van Der Veer Green, d.1938.

Now the mosaic panel to Marie van der Veer Green, d.1938, a generation later, and here the mosaics are used differently again. Again we see how the Italian smalti can give an intensity of colour matched by no other material, and this is an extraordinarily sophisticated work of its type, with the use of lines of similarly coloured mosaic to emphasise the brightness of the central figure’s red dress and purple scarf, and the lines of gold across the white overcloak giving a shimmering surface. Parts of this panel look to have been laid directly, or using a double reverse method to angle the tesserae slightly; the different angles of each piece reflects the light in all directions, giving a sparkling picture of a type much used some hundreds of years previously by the Byzantines. And yet the three girlish faces, the flowers in the central figure’s hair (she is St Cecelia), and the line of brightly coloured flowers at the base all hearken to the 1900s rather than the 1500s.

Revd. Joseph Hobling, d.1944.

Finally, the most recent mosaic is that to Revd. Joseph Hobling, d.1944, killed while ministering to fellow prisoners of war in Germany. This shows St Leonard, appropriate for this memorial as one of his miracles was that prisoners who hearkened to him were freed of their chains. We return here to a single standing figure with a decorative, flat treatment, emphasised by the Saint’s name in gold against the background. The robes of the figure are very simply treated, more detail being given to the curtain in the background. Again, we have a setting of the mosaics to catch the light by virtue of their different angles, and despite the modern aspect to the face – which is however most characterful – this has the feel of an artist trained in and with an empathy for traditional methods; Eastern European, I would hazard rather than English or Italian.

War memorial murals designed by Sigismund Goetze.

A brief note on the other contents of the Church. There is much fine alabaster and stone work, in later Victorian and Edwardian vein but confidently in Medieval style. The reredos has paintings by Edward Armitage, Victorian in spirit but modern in the actual figures, and with little saints under Gothic canopies which look like 1860s High Church work by someone like Powell and Sons; the carving of the leafy spandrels is very fine. The font is Victorian, but by someone who knew his Medieval fonts. And in a side chapel of the Church is a War Memorial taken from a demolished church, with painted panels designed, apparently, by Sigismund Goetze, but looking for all the world like the work of the Victorian child painter, T. C. Gotch. Excellent female angels playing musical instruments, in pastel colours and with harmonious lines to the composition.

The Church website is at http://www.stmarks.me.uk/St_Marks/History.html

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Introduction to Victorian Mosaics in London

Some London Churches // London sculpture // Sculptors // Introduction to church monuments

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