Legal Crisis and Artistic Innovation in Thirteenth-Century Scotland

Jessica Barker

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Abstract

Weathered, damaged and largely forgotten, the thirteenth-century effigies of Walter and Mary Stewart lie amidst the evocative ruins of Inchmahome Priory on an island in the Lake of Menteith. This tomb has been largely overlooked by art historians, yet it is the earliest surviving example in the British Isles to represent the effigies of husband and wife lying side-by-side on a single tomb, the forerunner of a trend for commemorating marriage which would not become widespread for almost another hundred years. The intimacy of Walter and Mary’s relationship is expressed through a complex exchange of gestures, unparalleled in medieval funerary sculpture: both figures stretch out their arms to embrace one another around the shoulder, while Walter reaches across with his other hand to pull the folds of Mary’s cloak over her body. The following article considers the possible connection between this remarkable instance of artistic innovation and Walter and Mary’s involvement in a long-running legal dispute over their possession of the earldom of Menteith. Examining the gestures of the figures, the decision to place the monument at Inchmahome and the probable identity of Walter as patron, I argue that the effigies should be considered in part as a “monumental charter”, providing enduring evidence of the legitimacy of Walter and Mary’s possession of their title and lands.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Art Studies
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2017

Keywords

  • medieval
  • sculpture
  • innovation
  • law

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