Questions of sculptural idiom in the later bosses from Norwich Cathedral cloister (c.1411-1430)
This thesis focusses on the sculptural vault bosses from Norwich Cathedral cloister, particularly those of the later campaigns (c.1411-1430). This substantial series of bosses has long been acknowledged to be noteworthy, but, whilst the they have been subjected to iconographical, archaeological, chemical, and anthropological analyses, the bosses have never been the subject of serious art-historical study. The later bosses are particularly distinctive in their sculptural manner: they are emphatically convex, swelling downwards and curving upwards into the nooks of space between the vault ribs, every facet crammed with complex detail. Some are wildly distortive, bending, twisting and compressing forms to form aggregate hemispheres out of a jumble of constituent elements. All enjoy the tension created when organic shapes are forced to conform to a governing, hemispherical ‘frame’.
Attention has already been paid to the question of what the bosses depict, and when they were carved. But almost none has been paid to the question of how they depict it, nor how this relates to aesthetic traditions locally, nationally or internationally, nor how they were carved, nor how they were engaged with by their viewers. This thesis aims to fill these gaps. The first part of the thesis focusses on chronology, situating the later Norwich cloister bosses within a longer history of curvaceous boss sculpture. The second part is concerned with questions of facture, considering the careers and methods of the carvers who worked at Norwich before ‘zooming out’ to consider the production of comparable objects in other media. The third and final part is concerned with questions of reception and interpretation; it aims to find less anachronistic concepts with which to understand this distinctive sculptural mode, and to revise some existing art-historical assumptions around issues of perspective, mobile spectatorship and sculptural space.