Invention and commemoration in fourteenth-century England: A monumental “family tree” at the Collegiate Church of St. Martin, Lowthorpe

Jessica Barker

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Commemoration is rarely linked to invention in studies of funerary monuments; the value of artistic conservatism in expressing ideas of continuity and lineage is emphasized instead. While this may be the case for many medieval tombs, a unique monument in the collegiate church of St. Martin at Lowthorpe challenges this notion. The tomb depicts a tree growing from the recumbent effigies of a man and woman, each of its thirteen branches sprouting a miniature, individualized human head. This article confronts the novelty and inventiveness of the memorial, considering what it might reveal about the mechanisms and purposes of artistic invention in fourteenth-century England. Examining ideas of influence, models, agency, and patronage, I argue that the innovative design at Lowthorpe should be understood as the product of collaboration among lay patrons, sculptors, and ecclesiastics in founding an ambitious ecclesiastical institution. Turning from the processes to the purposes of invention, I propose that the strangeness of the tomb enhanced its function as a focal point for remembrance, its polyvalent arboreal imagery representing and reinforcing the complex web of familial, institutional, and liturgical relationships within the college.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-128
Number of pages24
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • sculpture
  • family
  • innovation
  • medieval

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