This was the first I had learned of Sandham Memorial Chapel, a private chapel in Burghclere — Hampshire, England. Stanley Spencer was commissioned to paint a series of murals for memorial chapel that depicted various scenes specific to war and in particular, World War I. Sandham was a private memorial built by a family who dedicated it to the memory of their family member, Lieutenant Henry Willoughby Sandham, who had died in 1919 as a result of an illness he had contracted during the Macedonian campaign. Spencer had served in the war and on the same front as Lieutenant Sandham. Spencer had witnessed combat and much death as a medical orderly, so it seemed fitting that he was chosen with his unique perspective to portray scenes in the daily life of war.
According to That’s How the Light Gets In blog, “These paintings, which took six years to create and were completed in 1932, are considered by many to be Spencer’s finest achievement. Simon Schama has called the Spencer murals ‘the most powerful art to emerge from the carnage of the Great War’.”
The Resurrection of the Soldiers is just one of his finest examples:
“This is Spencer’s vision of the end of war, in which heaven has emerged from hell. Each cross amongst the astonishing and brave tumble across the canvas serves as an object of devotion (some of which are handed to Christ, who has been unconventionally placed in the mid-background); or marks a grave from which a soldier emerges; or serves to frame a bewildered face. The central motif is a pair of fallen mules, still harnessed to their timber wagon. The position of the cross on the altar in the chapel was of great importance to Spencer, for he felt it ‘imperative that the top of the altar should be slightly above the bottom of the big picture’ so that it might be incorporated visually amongst the mass of his own painted crosses.”
(Photo credit: All Stanley Spencer / Sandham murals photos via That’s How the Light Gets In blog)
Immediately, I recognized that the chapel layout was influenced by one of my favorite places, Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, one of the most magical man-made wonders of the world, with its culminating mural at the far end depicting the rising of the dead.
Scrovegni Chapel. Giotto’s murals. Photo credit unknown
The murals have since been relocated so restoration work can be done to the memorial chapel.
His work gives a fresh portrayal, rendered in a style that reminds me of Brueghel and like his work, such mundane activities as sorting the laundry have such life and charm even among a hellish time as war.
Reveille – soldiers awaking and getting dressed under mosquito netting
Tea in the hospital ward
Other unusual chapel murals:
Friendship Baptist Church in DC gets a colorful mural by Atlanta graffiti artist, Hense
The church before is depicted below. It’s interesting to me that the windows were painted as if they were not considered separately and have become incorporated into the wall space. The church is so colorful on the outside but must be very dark on the inside.
(Photos via Ask DCist)
Merry Christmas with all its wondrous transformations!!