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Mural paintings in Sussex churches

A great many Sussex churches contain pre-Reformation wall paintings,now often hidden behind whitewash.

It became the vogue from the 1930s onwards to try and restore the ancient medieval imagery, a ticklish business to say the least.

One F. Harrison wrote the following to the Sussex Archaeological Society in 1935: ‘Have the colours in these paints been analysed so that in restoring them, the same materials may be used as in the original?

‘The colours of the frescoes of that very interesting little Norman chapel in Rouen have been subject to analysis. They were found to be blue, green, yellow ochre, reddish brown and white.

‘Blue is the true “outremer’’ of the 12th century, the solid colour made from lapis lazuli. Cobalt blue, discovered in the 16th century by a German glass maker, was not then known. Green is a mixture of this blue with yellow ochre.

‘White was made of powdered egg shell and the black is a lamp-black.

‘Late in the 19th century the thick coating of whitewash, which had been spread over these frescoes during the French Revolution, was removed.

‘It was found that originally a sandy mortar was first laid on the stones of the vault; then a second layer, rich in lime and especially in white of egg, was applied. This last ingredient was also used as the chief constituent in laying on the colours.’

In other words, original methods and paint ingredients should be used, where possible, in restoring such important works in Sussex places of worship.

 

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