Guide to stone carvings in church

There are more than one hundred items of medieval sculpture that may still be seen in and around Tysoe church, and many more originally if account is taken of those carvings which are now too heavily eroded by weathering to be readily decipherable, and those that have been lost. They are to be found both inside and outside of the church, and as with most parish churches, they represent the enhancements of successive generations of patrons and parishioners over many centuries, such that Tysoe exhibits material from throughout the medieval period, albeit with peaks of activity in the 12th and 14th centuries. They remind us of how richly decorated were many of our parish churches, particularly as these sculptures were originally painted, adding further detail. Some remain where medieval craftsmen first placed them, but others have been moved to new locations during the various restorations that the church has undergone since the medieval period. This handlist is intended to introduce the visitor to some of this sculpture, representative of what may be seen around the church. Most are fairly accessible visually, but as always, the finer details are best viewed with the aid of a pair of binoculars.

The location of the carvings referred to in the Handlist. Click on the corresponding number below for detail
1 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 1

The north aisle was built in the ‘Decorated style’ between c.1330 and c.1350, just before the arrival in 1348 of the ‘Black Death’ and the onset of an endemic bubonic plague that devastated the country and left Tysoe’s population reduced by some seventy per cent by the end of the century. The aisle was richly decorated with a series of carved corbels that supported the roof, all of which may be dated to this period. The traceried windows were also adorned with stained glass, of which only a couple of fragments have survived, leaving the sculpture as our main testimony to the original decorative details. They were most probably commissioned under the patronage of Ralph de Stafford (1301-1372), who was enriched by profitable marriage and military exploits; a founder member of the ‘Order of the Garter’, he was elevated to the rank of earl in 1351.

At first glance this looks like a ‘bearded’ head, but closer inspection shows the ‘beard’ is more ruff or mane-like, while from the side it may be seen to have been double-winged. A fantasy figure drawn from the supernatural, it conveys a sense of movement with ‘hair’ swept back from the jaw and forehead, and with modelling that is well-executed and quite fine – a broad wedge-shaped nose, with chisel-like base, thin, taught lips and elliptical eyes, and a high forehead. Treatment of the wings appears to be intended to depict, in a stylistic way, feathers, so perhaps the whole figure should be envisaged as feathered. Painted details would have clarified some of the uncertainties. These corbels were most probably workshop created by several carvers, and this piece may be attributed to ‘Hand 1’.

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2 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 2

A female head with same facial features as Corbel 1, with a similar use of thick, rounded strands or ‘threads’ of stone to model the non-facial features, but in this case, flanking each side of the head is the cross-hatched edge of what might be considered a head-dress. A side view might suggest what could be part of a wing, but this is not clearly defined (unlike Corbel 1) and therefore a high-collared garment, or simply a non-representative technique for completing the sides of the corbels, seems more probable, and the vertical line below the chin suggests a garment. The figure has both hands raised to the front, palms inwards, but the quality of their modelling is poor in comparison with the rest of the figure.

The headwear appears to be a ’caul’ (see Corbel 3). c.1330-1350. ‘Hand 1’.

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3 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 3

Head of a high-status lady, with similar facial features to corbels 1 and 2, wearing a beaded ruff or a necklace, or possibly the ‘beads’ mark the edging of fabric that would have been articulated by painting.  She wears a ‘caul’ marked by cross-hatching, with a more elaborate band above the ‘fret’, probably imitating a jewelled headband. Cauls were often known as a fret, a trellis-work coif or skull cap of silk thread or goldsmithary, sometimes lined with silk, to contain hair. Shaped like modern-day hairnets, they performed the same function. The figure has bent arms, with the shoulder at the level of chin, arms running upwards to elbow at top of head, and the lower arms running downwards terminating in a hand below level of shoulder. c.1330-1350. ‘Hand 1’.

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4 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 4

Male crowned head, bearded, and with folded arms. A finely modelled male face, with similar features to the other corbels, but has a slightly different technique with narrow bridge of nose and slightly more bulbous eyes, with some depth, but insufficient to claim a different ‘hand’. The figure has a full, forked beard. The same technique of ‘strands’ is used to shape the figure, in this case rather like flowing hair at the top of the head, but a garment below. His shoulders are aligned on the mouth / chin, and arms bends at the elbow at the base of the figure, so that they can be depicted as folded. The main feature of the crown are the four-petalled crosses set as a band to form the crown, a favourite motif of the Decorated style. c.1330-1350. ‘Hand 1’.

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5 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 5

Bearded male figure playing a lute, one of the more distinctive corbels in the group, presented as a ‘torso’ rather than as a head. The carving depicts a musician playing a five-string lute, using a plectrum. Although it shares common characteristics with the other figures, this is the work of a different hand. Note the rounder, fuller face; heavy eyebrows clearly articulated; slightly less bulbous treatment of eyes, which have carved pupils; fuller lips and slightly pursed mouth. The figure has a forked beard and moustache, and a different treatment of the hair and better modelling of the hands. This is a more naturalistic carving, including the depiction of the figure’s arms. The side elevation is less ‘abstract’ than in other carvings, the head being ‘supported’ rather than forming a continuous feature. This is a finely carved piece that conveys a sense of ‘presence’ in the face. c.1330-1350. ‘Hand 2’.

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6 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 6

A bearded male head, grasping and pulling at his long beard. This is a well-modelled ‘torso’ that depicts head and shoulders, arms and upper body in a naturalistic way. The treatment of the figure’s hair and the technique for depicting his eyes and pupils, and the bridge of the nose, all suggest the possibility of a third hand at work. This sculptor shares with ‘Hand 2’ the rounder face, fuller mouth and more competent treatment of the hands, and with ‘Hand 1’ the sweeping back of the head to the back of the corbel as a single design, and the strand-like hair. The arms are better modelled and shaped, with a distinctive cuff to the sleeve of the garment depicted. ‘Beard pullers’ have Romanesque precedents.

The treatment of the eyes has some comparison with a nave corbel at Brailes, but there is not otherwise any close stylistic relationship. c.1330-1350. ‘Hand 3’.

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7 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 7

A crowned female head.  Stylistically, this was perhaps produced as a partner to the male crowned head (Corbel 4) although they are not set in the church as partners. Their facial characteristics are comparable. Less naturalistic, but the figure has raised arms depicted from the shoulder to the elbow, with the lower arm raised from the elbow to the head; her hands, placed to cover the ears, are more crudely fashioned than in the work of Hands 2 and 3; treatment of the ‘strands’ at the head runs back to the base of the corbel. A wavy band distinguishes the head band or ‘base’ of the crown, from which arise ribbed trapezoidal leaf-like points or spikes. c.1330-1350. Probably by ‘Hand 1’.

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8 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 8

A beast head, winged with leonine features and a full mane. The lion-like head has large circular eyes and settings, and a large wedge-shaped snout, raised in relief at the mouth, which is open to reveal two rows of teeth, as if snarling. The head is marked by ‘strands’ that sweep back off the head like whiskers. Billowing below the head is a very full mane-like ‘ruff’, although these may be intended to depict feathers as the same design is applied along the edge of what appear to be wings at the side of the head, running back to the base of the corbel. Below the wing may be seen the limb of the beast, from shoulder to elbow, and from the elbow to a four-toed claw; the limb is also feathered. Attribution of a hand is difficult as this piece is markedly different from most of the others and may therefore reflect the work of another hand in the workshop. c.1330-1350. Probably by ‘Hand 4’.

The possibility that ‘Hand 2’ and ‘Hand 4’ were the same talented sculptor in the workshop is discussed in the main discussion of the sculpture in Tysoe church in ‘The Making of Tysoe’.

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9 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 9

Leonine beast head with wings. A lion-like animal head similar to Corbel 8 but not quite so elongated and uses ‘strands’ to suggest a mane rather than creating one with a separate design motif. It has circular eyes, but less staring than on Corbel 8, and treatment of the eyebrow is slightly different. At the side of the figure are folded wings that occupy the full side of the figure and define the basic shape of the corbel. c.1330-1350. Probably by ‘Hand 4’.

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10 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 10

Bearded male / lion-like beast head with protruding tongue. This individualistic angle-corbel in the southwest corner of the aisle is apparently depicting a bearded man with moustache and a long protruding tongue. It is more deeply modelled than most and may be by ‘Hand 3’. The nose is naturalistically modelled, and eyes are sunken and protruding, and while treatment of the ‘hair’ compares with ‘Hand 3’, that of the mouth is different. However, the figure also has some animal-like features – the very long tongue, but more so, the semi-feline ears merged with the hair at side of the head. There are also side limbs that terminate in three-toed feet or claws. If a lion, it differs from the others markedly. Long tongues and ‘tongue-pullers’ have Romanesque precedents. c.1330-1350. Probably by ‘Hand 3’.

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11 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 11

A bearded male head. A well-executed carving of a male head, the treatment of whose eyes, nose and mouth suggests an attribution to ‘Hand 1’, and it shares with most corbels the use of ‘strands’ to fashion hair and beard. It is a head rather than a ‘torso’, the hair runs back to base of corbel. A wave at end of beard is an enlivening feature. c.1330-1350. ‘Hand 1’.

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12 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 12

Crowned male head. This bearded and crowned male head has a full beard in four discrete ‘growths’ of hair; the same ‘stranded’ technique as applied elsewhere is again used. The crown is similar in design to that worn on Corbel 4 but the treatment of the incised eyes and marked eyebrows is different to ‘Hand 1’, and the face is rounded with full cheeks. Although the lips are relatively thin, the upper lip is fully modelled, and the philtrum clearly depicted (as on the lute player). The base of the nose is also more natural, showing the nostrils. Hair and crown run back to base of corbel, as does the beard.  c.1330-1350. ‘Hand 2’.

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13 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 13

This female head with a decorated head-dress has facial characteristics that may be associated with ‘Hand 2’ – rounded face and full cheeks; a well modelled nose, showing nostrils, and philtrum below; heavy eyebrows and incised pupils. The figure appears to wear a ‘caul’ and has an elaborate head band. The ‘ruff’ around her neck runs back to the corbel base and emphasises the ‘grooves’ more than the ‘strands’. The figure has arms, running from shoulder to elbow and back to the hands, and a cuff is evident at the wrist; the upper arm has striations suggestive of a garment. c.1330-1350. ‘Hand 2’.

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14 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 14

A fantasy beast with bared teeth and ‘scaled’ face. Another figure drawing upon the supernatural and the sculptor’s inventive imagination, this head may be attributed to ‘Hand 2’ given the incised treatment of the eyes and the base of the nose. The beast appears to have in its jaws a branch with three leaves that are arranged to flank the side of the body, on both sides, while in front of this is a leg with a four-toed foot. It has feline type elliptical ‘scooped’ ears at the side of the head. The ‘ruff’ is made up of the customary ‘strands’, but with more emphatic grooves in-between (as also seen on the lute player). The eyebrows are emphasised and grooved, and the brow is also treated in the same way. One can imagine that this would have been a very colourful piece when painted, with green leaves contrasting against the body of the beast. c.1330-1350. ‘Hand 2’.

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15 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 16

Female head with head dress / head band. Although the shape of the face is more tapered than is usually the case, the facial modelling (mouth, philtrum, base of nose, eyebrows, incised pupils) is suggestive of ‘Hand 2’. This is a notably naturalistic figure (note for instance treatment of the neck, bare and well-modelled) who wears a head-dress with a wavy edge, which may be a decorated band or a representation of the edge of the cloth. It is a striking carving which prompts the question as to whether this is an actual or stylised likeness, or portrait, of a patron? c.1330-1350. ‘Hand 2’.

This possibility, also considering its location in the church, is discussed in the main discussion of the sculpture in Tysoe church in ‘The Making of Medieval Tysoe’. Brailes church also has some finely modelled human heads, including, in the nave, a man and a woman.

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16 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 18

A human head baring its teeth. Rather different to the other male heads is this round-faced human-like head whose characteristics suggest that it is the work of ‘Hand 2’ (incised pupil, shape of eye and eyebrow, base of nose, full cheeks). The style of the ‘strands’, applied only to the hair and running back to the base of the corbel, allows for deep grooves in between, and no ‘ruff’ was applied to this piece. c.1330-1350. ‘Hand 2’.

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17 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 19

A fantastic beast. The features of this carving have some comparable features with those on corbels 8 and 14 in the north aisle. It has large circular eyes which are modelled to receive the pupil and follows the same basic figure design as corbel 14 (Hand 2) with winged flanks and front legs terminating in a toed foot; the latter on the eastern flank appears to have been damaged, perhaps on installation, being hard up against the arch. The beast has incised pupils, a scaly face with ‘strands’ forming side whiskers, a broad nose or snout that has been tooled, teeth or full undulating lips and a full chest that might be scales but feathers seem more likely. It has small ears at top side of the head, pricked forwards. It was presumably a very colourful piece. c.1330-1350. ‘Hand 2’ or ‘Hand 4’.

The possibility that ‘Hand 2’ and ‘Hand 4’ were the same talented sculptor in the workshop is discussed in the main discussion of the sculpture in Tysoe church in ‘The Making of Medieval Tysoe’.

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18 Interior: North Aisle, Corbel 20

In the north-western corner of the aisle, a head with flowing hair. It has a broad, flat nose, flared at the base, large circular eye sockets and elliptical eyes but without incised pupils. It is a round face with a wide mouth and thick lips, and ‘strands’ running back to the base of the corbel. There do not seem to be any immediate comparisons with the other north aisle corbels, so if not another new hand, it testifies to the flexibility of one of the others. c.1330-1350. Hand unattributed.

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19 Interior: Nave, Corbel 24

A male exhibitionist, ‘megaphallic’ corbel. The addition of a clerestory to the nave in the mid-14th century occasioned a remodelling of the roof, again modified in the 15th century, probably reusing the earlier corbels of c.1350-70 while adding some others. This scene comprises three individuals, the two flanking figures shown as heads but with a ‘twisted’ view of their bodies, each with an arm raised in support of the central figure, hands raised to the neck and head of the figure. To the left is a bearded male while to the right, the headwear suggests a female, who also wears a garment that has been given some decorative treatment with a striped edge. The facial modelling is extremely crude, especially on the central figure, and the figure style is primitive in character. The central figure is depicted with a large, erect penis; this appears to be a masturbation scene, and if not, it is certainly exhibitionist. Such sexual carvings have a pedigree dating back to the Romanesque, but the ‘supporting’ figures are more unusual. This corbel should be seen alongside its neighbours (nave corbels 25, 26 and 27) in which there is a strong suggestion of a core theme underpinning and bringing together these four corbels, presumably related to sexual transgressions and the discord that might accompany them within the community, together with the threat to one’s own soul. At the very least these corbels were intended to cause alarm, insult and furnish warnings to the viewer, as well as playing to a coarse sense of humour. Probably c.1350-1370; but could be 15th century.

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20 Interior: Nave, Corbel 25

Head with raised arms and possibly wearing a cap. The figure is that of a human head facing the viewer, crudely carved but with the same basic stylistic characteristics as in the other pieces – tapered head shape, almond eyes in deep sockets with heavy eyebrows; wedge-shaped nose, marked jowls and full lips. The figure appears to have ‘frizzy’ hair or some other feature sticking out from the head, with the edge of something like a headband at the forehead; it may be a cap of some kind. Its arms are raised, that to left with a clenched fist (perhaps indicative of anger or discord, and to the right open-palmed, but with only four ill-shaped fingers. Probably c.1350-1370; but could be 15th century.

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21 Interior: Nave, Corbel 26

A figure grasping its buttocks. This posture may be traced to the ‘acrobatic’ images commonly found on the corbels of many Romanesque churches in Europe; essentially, they are head-to-heels figures, bent double at the waist to present their anus to the viewer, each hand grasping a buttock as the legs divide on each side of the head. Such figures are sometimes female, indicated explicitly by depicting a vulva, but that does not appear to be a feature here (despite an obvious affinity with nave corbel 24). However, the possibility of a hood-like head-dress, with fabric around the face, as in 14th century styles, leaves open the possibility that this depicts a female figure. While the arms show evidence of cuffs, indicating a garment, the lower body appears to be unclothed. The stylistic features of the carving otherwise are comparable with the other carvings. This type of depiction is familiar in later English parish churches but whether they can be seen in the same way as their Romanesque forebears have sometimes been interpreted is questionable. The lack of explicit sexual characteristics here (unless originally a painted feature) may incline towards reading this as depicting an ‘anus shower’. The group to which this corbel belongs run as a series along the north wall of the nave, facing the parishioners as they entered into the church from the south door and south aisle, into the nave. Probably c.1350-1370; but could be 15th century.

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22 Interior: Nave, Corbel 27

A ‘mouth puller’. ‘Mouth-pullers’ are well established subjects in the Romanesque repertoire, from which a scene such as this has descended. The carving is rather crude, as illustrated in the representation of the hands and fingers. The face is relatively broad and less tapered than some others, with a well-modelled nose, and almond-shaped eyes, but not as deep-set as in other carvings. The carving sits below the top of the stone supporting the roof timber, although this is also the case with some of the others. However, the details here suggest that there were two or three hands at work producing these nave corbels. Probably c.1350-1370; but could be 15th century.

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23 Interior: Nave, Corbel 28

Female Head. The figure wears a ‘caul’ and may therefore be identified as a female head. It is stylistically comparable with the other figures, having a roundish face, heavy jowls and full cheeks, a large mouth and thick lips, and oval eyes (more protruding than most) deep set beneath heavy eyebrows; her eyes appear to have had inner eye / pupil marked out. The curl on either side of her neck might be hair at the base of her caul but more probably they represent the edges of the headgear associated with the caul; none of the figures’ use ‘strands’ as found in north aisle. Probably c.1350-1370; but could be 15th century.

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24 Interior: Nave, Corbel 33

Beast with long snout. This distinctive animal head, looking down into the nave, is one of two beast heads to be found in the nave and arguably the finest of the sculptures to be found in the nave. The snout protrudes forwards with large, flared nostrils and a partially open mouth with clearly defined lips. It is positioned as if crouching, as three-toed paws flank the head. It has large circular eye sockets, and large circular (not elliptical) eyes with drilled pupils, and a pointed forehead in between. Stylised hair or fur stands erect from the top of the head, between pricked, forward-facing ears, and down the side of the head to the paws – presumably marking the legs. Some of these details recall the north aisle corbel 19 (Handlist no. 17), but the modelling of this beast is different and so while perhaps influenced by the north aisle corbel, they are not by the same hand. This is a much more competent piece than the others in the nave, suggesting the work of another hand. A very similar but less competent carving may be found in the south aisle of Brailes Church, but despite their similarities, there are several differences in execution, suggesting that one influenced the other rather than being the product of the same hand. The carving in Tysoe is of mid-14th century date, around c.1350.

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25 Interior: Nave, Roof Boss A

Nave, Roof Boss A. The heraldic arms of the Stafford family. This is one of eight wooden bosses running the length of the nave, presumably associated with the work that replaced the 14th century roof with one of a lower pitch in the 15th century. Positioned in relation to the chancel, the entrance to the sacred space that the patrons were associating themselves with, but also clearly visible from the nave, especially when painted. The arms are supported by two female figures, apparently angels. This was one among several visual markers to the seigneurial family, their lordship, and their patronage of the church. 15th century.

There is a fuller discussion of the interpretation and significance of this boss in the main discussion of the sculpture in Tysoe church on ‘The Making of Medieval Tysoe’.

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26 Interior: Nave, Roof Boss B

Nave, Roof Boss B. A bearded man. This is an impressive carving of a human face – a man with moustache and beard, with long flowing hair and whose eyes have drilled pupils, possibly the settings for coloured glass that might catch the light from the clerestory windows. Despite its deceptive familiarity, there is nothing in the carving to suggest that this was a figure of a ‘green man’ nor a representation of Christ, an apostle or of John the Baptist. Like the stone sculpture, these wooden roof bosses would also have been painted. 15th century.

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27 Interior: Nave, Roof Boss C

A double, seven-petalled rose. The flower consists of an inner flower of seven petals and an outer of seven petals. There seems no reason to interpret this as a political or dynastic symbol, particularly as a heraldic rose is made up of five petals. However, in alchemy a rose with seven petals was a symbol of order, acceptance, and inclusion. Many legends considered the rose to be the ‘queen of flowers’, and therefore it also came to symbolize the Virgin Mary. In the 14th century the poet Dante called Mary ‘the Rose, in which the divine Word became flesh….’, and artists of the 15th century painted Mary with roses, often in a rose garden. It may have been intended to embrace both meanings and seems best interpreted here as a reflection of the divine order that God gave to mankind, and under which it lived, of which the Virgin Mary was a part. This is also apposite to the dedication of the church. 15th century.

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28 Interior: Nave, Roof Boss E

An Agnus Dei (Paschal Lamb). The Agnus Dei, or ‘Lamb of God’, is long established and familiar Christian iconography, symbolic of the crucifixion and representative of sacrifice and salvation. Its present situation above the font seems to be a potent one, each reinforcing the other as symbols of salvation, but the font was moved to this location after 1942, although it may be that it was then being returned to its 15th century position. Alternatively (or in addition) the boss was positioned in alignment with the principal entrance into the church, as in some other churches, thus greeting and instructing parishioners. 15th century.

There is a fuller discussion of the interpretation and significance of Agnus Dei iconography in the main discussions of the 12th and 15th century carvings in Tysoe church in ‘The Making of Medieval Tysoe’.

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29 Interior: South Aisle, Corbel 40

Human head, probably male. When the nave roof was remodelled in the late 15th century, the eaves-level of the south aisle was also raised to reduce the pitch of the roof. This may have required adjustments to the interior corbels, and it is possible that some 12th century modillons, previously part of an external corbel table, were reused (such reuse might have occurred at any point from the 14th century through to the restorations of the 19th and 20th centuries). This is one of the two modillons in question. The head differs stylistically from those found in the nave and north aisle, with a ‘shield-shaped’ head coming to a pointed chin. It has a wedge-shaped nose with a thickened upper lip to show the philtrum, and a shaped mouth. The eyebrows flow from the top of the nose, with slightly oval eye sockets, circular eyes and broad-drilled / hollowed pupils. The brow of the head merges into the upper part of the corbel. Probably 12th century, reused in the 14th century or later.

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30 Interior: South Aisle, Corbel 41

Human head, possibly female. A rounded face mask with oval shaped eyes and eye sockets, wedge-shaped nose, and full lips. The eyes are particularly distinctive in their treatment, being carved to show narrow eyes with eyelids, and shaped pupils. In technique they are more ‘scooped out’ than drilled. It is possible that the head is enclosed by a full scarf-like head dress, and that this figure is that of a woman. Probably 14th century, or perhaps 15th century.

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31 Interior: South Aisle, Corbel 43

Male head. A relatively well executed sculpture of a human male head, which like Corbel 40 (Handlist no 29), may be a reused 12th century modillon. This is a round, shield-shaped head, with a wedge nose and well-articulated mouth. The eyes are located within oval sockets and are themselves oval-shaped, with hollowed pupils. Strong eyebrows stem from the bridge of the nose as a continuous carved feature. The top of the head has distinctive treatment which is continued at the side of the head to the rear. It may be a stylistic representation of hair, although a coif and squarish helmet is also a possibility. There is no carved philtrum. Probably 12th century, reused in the 14th century or later.

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32 Interior: South Aisle, Corbel 46

A beast face mask. The grooved treatment of the face recalls techniques used in the north aisle. A squarish head, with wedge-shaped nose, oval eyes in deeper sockets and drilled / hollowed pupils. The mouth opens narrowly to reveal three teeth. The continuity of certain stylistic features makes dating difficult, but this is probably of 14th century date.

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33 Interior: South Aisle, Reset 12th century modillon of a chevalier

This damaged carving depicting a mounted knight is the most remarkable in the church, without ready parallel elsewhere in Romanesque England, and suggestive of a richly decorated church in the 12th century. A particularly distinctive feature is the kite-shaped shield, familiar from the Bayeux Tapestry, but a type modified in the mid-to-late 12th century, replacing the rounded top with a flat one, shaped as a large convex shield. This suggests that the figure was probably carved before c.1160, and no later than c.1180. The form of the modillon is very unusual but was clearly intended to be seen. Now headless, the rider wears a belted garment whose hem comes to the knee; his legs protrude at the mid-point, with feet in stirrups, and wearing spurs. The shield is held on the left-hand side, from underneath which a sword scabbard projects. The horse has slightly oval eyes and a mane, and details of the bridle, bit and reins are clearly carved. The horse’s mouth was carved to be seen from below, including its nostrils. The rear of the horse is not carved; a carved ‘edge’ on the stone behind the rider probably indicates the point at which it was set into the original wall; the present view arises from the fact that the stone has been reset. It is approximately 39cm deep; 50 cm long, and 23cm wide at the wall abutment.  Mid-12th century, probably pre-c.1160, but no later than c.1180.

See full discussion in ‘The Making of Medieval Tysoe’.

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34 Interior: South Aisle Arcade, Beast Head Label Stop

Integral to the construction of the south arcade is a decorative stop, or terminal, to the hood mould above an arch on the south face of the arcade. This consists of a beast’s head with a long (damaged) snout, high forehead, pricked ears and lentoid eyes with large deeply drilled pupils carved flatly against the arcade wall. The mouth depicts a sense of soft tissue, with no line of carved teeth at the side of the mouth, but there may have been some at the front of the mouth, and such features may have originally been painted details. The sense of the design ‘clinging’ to the wall was accentuated by a long protruding tongue that falls downwards from the beast’s snout. It is a fine piece of carving that would have been more striking when painted.

The ancestry of such beast head carvings looks back to the distinctive animal art that took shape in Mercian manuscripts, sculpture and metalwork in the 8th and 9th centuries, and more generally in Anglo-Saxon England (eg Deerhurst church, Glos). This kind of image reappears in several Anglo-Norman buildings, as at Elkstone in Gloucestershire, in the nave of Bredon church in Worcestershire, and at Morville in Shropshire. The Tysoe head is a rather plainer example than some and although it is not without detail, this would presumably have been emphasised by painting. Mid-12th century, c.1150 – c.1180.

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35 Interior: South Porch, Panel of the 12th century depicting an Agnus Dei

Reset into the wall, centrally above the south door, is a fine rectangular panel depicting a ‘Lamb of God’ within a medallion, another hint that Tysoe church in the 12th century was relatively rich in its decoration. It is comparable with a similar depiction at neighbouring Whitchurch church, except that the later faces right whereas the lamb on the Tysoe carving faces left. There is a third example of such a panel at Studley (Warwickshire). They all share the associated motif of clusters of triple leaves at the angles, perhaps symbolising the Trinity, obviously linked with the symbolism of sacrifice and salvation inherent within crucifixion imagery. It has been suggested to be the surviving fragment of a tympanum (location uncertain) but there is also a possibility that it was derived from a rood. Twelfth century, probably c.1160-75. (see also Handlist No. 28)

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36 Interior: South Porch, Bird Beakhead of the 12th century

Its tapered form may suggest that it was used as a voussoir, set around an arched opening such as a window or a doorway, but alternatively, the possibility of its use as a corbel must also be acknowledged, given its similarity to a corbel from Old Sarum Cathedral. The surface of the bird’s head is missing, although the eyes are just discernible, but the beak and the round billet-like cylinder it grips are intact. In this instance it is more probably a decorated corbel rather than a voussoir. The sculpture is certainly of the 12th century, but closer dating is difficult; a date from the 1140s onwards seems most credible.

There is a fuller discussion setting out this argument, and the possible influences on the decoration of the church of Tysoe, in the main discussion of the sculptures in Tysoe church on ‘The Making of Medieval Tysoe’.

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37 Interior: South Porch, Corbel

Probably originally in the north aisle. Male head. The sculpture to the left (west) of the Agnus Dei panel is another reset sculpture, apparently a carved corbel although the base of the piece, beneath the chin, with a flat base suggests that it sat upon another element. Most of the upper half of the carving has been lost, but the figure was clearly that of a bearded human head, with a broad wedge-shaped nose and large oval eyes, but a 12th century attribution is questionable for this piece. It seems more probable that this head dates from the 14th century work in the church, work with which the chisel marks on the head are comparable. 14th century, most probably c.1330-1350, reset here during restoration work.

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38 Interior: South Porch, 12th century door and arch

The south aisle, onto which the doorway opens, was added in the mid to late 12th century to what had previously been an aisleless nave. The south door is of three orders. The first, innermost order, is of square chamfered plinths and jambs, topped by imposts cut with a quirk moulding that is continued across to the imposts above the capitals of the second order. The nook-shafts of the second order have an annulet (the encircling ‘ring’ halfway up the shaft) and rise from distinctive bulbous moulded bases, rising via the annulets to waterleaf capitals. Springing from the imposts above to form the arch is an order decorated with chain-like lozenges, terminating in half-lozenges. The jambs of the third order follow essentially the same arrangements as their neighbour, except that the waterleaf capitals and imposts in this case support a well-executed chamfered roll moulding. Rising from the ends of the third order imposts, forming the outer order of the arch, is a hood moulding decorated with a nailhead or pyramidal stud motif. The use of waterleaf capitals on the capitals of the south door suggests a date range around the 1160s to the 1180s.

Therefore, 12th century, most probably of a date between the 1160s and the 1180s / c.1190.

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39 Interior: North Aisle recess, semi-effigial grave slab

Although this grave slab is now in the north aisle, weathering suggests that it was originally situated in the churchyard. Traces of hair, eyebrows and a long, broad nose may be detected, situated in a cowl-like ‘basin’ or recess. The figure’s feet appear at the base of the slab sunken in a semi-circular recess, the two joined by a ‘staff’; the composition recalls a free-standing cross, as in many cross-slab designs. The semi-effigial slab at Tysoe, when considered alongside the cross slab that survives in Brailes church, suggests that the use of cross slabs was established in the locality.

A date in the 13th century is probable.

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40 Exterior: North Aisle, ‘Donor Sculpture’, 14th century

A woman wearing a square head-dress and a bearded man, set on the external wall of the north aisle, situated on the string course slightly to the east of the aisle doorway. They rise from the embattled towers of the ‘Heavenly Kingdom’, and beyond each of these an angel holds a scroll in two horizontal bands, to which the man and woman are clinging, the whole flanked by two ballflowers. The man and woman, the focus of the composition, are best understood as the patrons of the church, Ralph de Stafford, the first earl of Stafford (d.1372), and his second wife, Margaret Audley (d.1349). c.1330-50.

There is a full discussion of this sculpture and its meaning in the main discussion of the sculptures in Tysoe church in ‘The Making of Medieval Tysoe’.

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41 Exterior: North Aisle, Gargoyle 1, 14th century

Gargoyles are waterspouts that project from the building to throw water runoff from the roof clear of the building. They often take the form of powerful, fantastic, and supernatural beasts, thought to have symbolized ‘guardianship’ of the building, while also sentient and cunning creatures. This winged beast, with wings folded back above its legs, has a flattish head with large bulging oval eyes and a shallow wedge-shaped nose. Grooved lines enliven the surface of the body. A waterspout emerges from an open mouth between two rows of teeth. c.1330-50.

There is a full discussion of gargoyles and grotesques in the main discussion of the sculptures in Tysoe church in ‘The Making of Medieval Tysoe’.

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42 Exterior: Tower. Middle of the south face of the tower

Gargoyle (waterspout) in the form of a winged beast with a large protruding nose and bulging almond-shaped eyes, emphasised by carved lines below the eyes. It has a more human-like, but not human face, and appears to be wearing a crown or circlet. The folded, bat like wings are resting on the upper stringcourse, and the feet on the lower part of the stringcourse. Probably 15th century.

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43 Exterior: Tower. North face, northwest angle of the tower

A grotesque, at string course level between the fourth and fifth stages of the tower. While the intermediate sculptures are all gargoyles, those at the angles of the tower are all grotesques, which share the artistic and symbolic character of their water-dispersing companions but not their function. This piece is heavily eroded but appears to have had a flat face and takes the form of a winged beast with folded wings, launching itself, or reaching out and staring from the corner of the building. Probably 15th century.

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44 Exterior: South Clerestory. Cornice sculptures, above the clerestory (upper level) windows on the south side of the nave

The cornice sculptures are a late medieval arrangement of the mid-14th century associated with the addition of the clerestory windows. They are now heavily eroded, and some have been restored, making interpretation difficult. However, such schemes commonly comprise of human and animal heads, grotesque and fantastic face masks, beasts and monsters, together with depictions of daily life, abstract and geometric devices and foliage designs. For example, the carving situated above the first clerestory window appears to have incorporated two birds with wings crossed across their bodies frontally; tail feathers and the head on the eastern figure show them to be birds rather than angels. This is followed by what may have been a plant motif and then by a coiled design, probably an animal / serpent. There is also a plant with thick, clover-like leaves, but badly weathered. c. 1330 – c.1350.

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45 Church Furnishings: Font

Octagonal font of the mid-14th century. Remarkably, it has survived both the attentions of those who at some point whitewashed it, and subsequently of the restorers who ‘scraped’ it back to the stone. Octagonal fonts were particularly fashionable in the 14th century, here comprising a vertical-sided bowl and stem in one piece, having mouldings at the top and the bottom and standing on a moulded base. The font is formed therefore of eight rectangular panels which each provided architectural settings for their subjects. Within each of these are a series of figures; an enthroned Christ, with His hand raised in blessing, flanked by panels depicting St Peter and St Paul. An image of the Blessed Virgin and Child is situated between panels of St Michael holding a pair of scales, an attribute that reflected his role in the weighing of souls at the Last Judgement, and St John the Baptist in the act of baptizing Christ. St Mary Magdalene is depicted with her pot of nard, and St Catherine with her sword and wheel, symbols respectively of her martyrdom by decapitation, and the wheel on which she was tortured beforehand.

There is a fuller discussion of the font and its figures, and their symbolic attributes, in the main discussion of the sculptures in Tysoe church in ‘The Making of Medieval Tysoe’.

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