Among the less pretentious examples is the parclose screen at Pilton, Fig. 137, again with the same resemblance in the circular-headed tracery to Fig. 136. This is the arch-headed type of the West, in square framings with foliated spandrels in the corners.
The painted decoration of the Western screens is usually broader in technique than in those of the East, the figures executed with less attention to small detail. Some border on the crude, but in others, as at Ashton, Ugborough, Chudleigh, Fig. 108, and Bradninch, Fig. 109, the draughtsmanship and execution is much more powerful, and such figures as are depicted in the costume of their time are particularly interesting.
Fig. 173. South Burlingham, Norfolk, Decorated Pulpit. - Mid-fifteenth century.
At Bovey Tracey, Fig. 138, and Halberton, Fig. 139, the screens stretch right across the church, passing under the first arches of the north and south aisles. At Halberton there are little tabernacled shrines which mask the aisle columns. This was a favourite device in Devonshire churches, and is rarely, if ever, found elsewhere.
It is difficult to imagine how much of the appearance of these great screens must have been marred by the removal of their rood-lofts. At Chulmleigh, for example, Fig. 140, the effect of this additional height, especially if the loft front was elaborately carved, as it would have been, must have been exceedingly striking.
The vaultings of these Devonshire screens differ greatly from those of East Anglia. The stonemason tradition is very pronounced in Fig. 142, with its lierne ribs, bossed on their intersections and pierced with tracery in the panels. At Coldridge, Fig. 143, this tracery is solid but the feeling of stone is still present. At Lapford, Figs. 144, 145 and 146, Renaissance ornament is introduced into these groined spandrels in similar manner to those at Atherington. This screen is planted clear from the aisle columns, and reaches from the wall of the north aisle to that of the south in the Devonshire manner. Swimbridge, close by, has a very similar screen, although possibly somewhat earlier, but on the evidence of such details as the seaweed ornament of its base, Fig. 148, it may easily have been designed by the same hands. Unfortunately, many of these fine screens have been locally, and very ignorantly restored. Halberton is an instance of this, with the result of an incongruous jumble of parts patched together.
That these rich screens were further elaborated with colours, in their original state, is unquestionable. Greens and reds appear to have been largely used, but gold, in any amount, was exceptional. Devonshire was not a rich county in the fifteenth century, compared with Norfolk and Suffolk, and the decoration of the rood-screen in the parish church was usually maintained by gifts of money from the charitable or the devout, usually in the form of bequests. Probably for this reason, gold, which is so general in East Anglian screens, is so infrequent in those of Devonshire.
The Renaissance of Italy intrudes itself into Church woodwork in the first years of the sixteenth century, but in a manner somewhat different from its secular introduction. In much the same way as with a parasitic growth on a noble tree, which gains in strength until the tree eventually perishes, so the Renaissance grafts itself on the Gothic, and finally submerges it. It begins with motives, introduced sparingly and with taste, as in the panels of the Atherington vaulting, but later it begins to debase the character of the tracery, which loses its former logical basis of design and degenerates into meaningless patterns, as at Coldridge, Fig. 151. In this later work the earlier turned shafts recur, but these are now spiral-fluted and twisted. At Brushford, in Somerset, Fig. 152, the tracery is cut from the solid and merely dowelled on to the spiral-turned shafts. In this screen the debasing of the tracery forms can be noticed very clearly. The solid panels of the base have the linen-fold pattern, which is such a sure indication of the sixteenth century.
In some instances, however, the Renaissance is used with discretion and taste. In the gallery at Tawstock, Fig. 153, for example, the ornament has still the Gothic character in vine-trails and grapes, and at Holbeton, Figs. 154 to 156, the tracery is filled with carved work of extraordinary richness, Gothic in character but used in a Renaissance manner. The ornament of the beam, Fig. 155, as a foil, is pure Renaissance, yet the association of the two does not appear to be incongruous, and the effect of the whole screen is extremely rich. Such experiments, however, were fatal to the Gothic as an ecclesiastical style, the greater in proportion to their success.
This final phase of the Gothic produced some very noteworthy results, however, in . spite of the decline of the former fine traditions. The Spring Pew at Lavenham, Fig. 157, and the Oxford Pew in the same Church, Fig. 158, are of this late style, but the flair for the Gothic is not extinguished so soon in East Anglia as in the West. There is a loss in meaning and a lack of appreciation of material, however, even more evident in the Spring Pew than in other work of the same date. There is no doubt as to the materia] of which the early fifteenth-century Gothic is constructed. It is unmistakably of stone or wood. Even in the earlier examples, where the woodworker is just emancipating himself from the stonemason's traditions, there is a sturdy vigour in his conceptions, even \\ hen accompanied by an absence of refinement in his details and construction. Unfortunately, it is rare to find an artistic tendency stopping short at the logical. If proportions become refined, they do not rest until they reach such a stage of fragility as to be inartistic. An erection, whether of wood or stone may be of ample strength, but if it appear inadequate neither the eye nor the mind is satisfied. The material must also be equally frank. Construct a bridge of steel and grain it to look like wood, and it will appear unsafe, and its appearance will be false to the eye. Similarly, the early Gothic woodwork, apart from its massive dignity and even grandeur, is not wholly satisfactory; it is too much like stonework, which has, by accident, been made from timber. It is the Gothic woodwork of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century which fulfils best, both artistic and constructional demands. It is a style which can become debased very easily, especially in wood. Tracery is only pierced fretwork, but when cut by the carver it offers, in many cases, a suggestion of construction which it does not really possess. This Lavenham Spring Pew is, perhaps, one of the most ornate expressions of the later Gothic, yet one has the feeling that it is not woodwork but confectionery. The screens which we have just considered are marred by the absence of their lofts. The result is that vaulting which must suggest the carrying of a superimposed mass, is now inoperative and useless. That, however, is not a defect of the screens, but of the vandals who broke down their lofts and mutilated the artistic effect which they formerly possessed. In the Spring Pew, there is vaulting which carries nothing and never has, and tracery which is mere tortured filigree work. The same may be said of the Oxford Pew, of about the same date, where posts support nothing and where Renaissance ornament is employed to masquerade as tracery.
Fig. 174. E. Down, Devon, Font Pedestal. - Sixteenth century. - Mr. Fredk. Sumner, Photo.