Picture Library - Chrysoms

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The English term 'chrysom' has long been used to describe figures of swaddled infants on tomb monuments, which became popular from the fifteenth century on.  The common explanation is that they represent infants who were buried in their baptismal cloth, because they had died before their mothers' churching. In an article published in 2000 [see Bibliography], Sophie Oosterwijk showed that this explanation is incorrect.  Not only was the term 'chrysom', 'chrisom' or 'chrisomer' used to denote innocent infants of any age, but it is also hard to prove that these figures are indeed shown wearing a particular baptismal cloth.  They are instead shown wrapped in the swaddling clothes of living infants, with their eyes open as if alive.

A crucial distinction must be made between shrouded effigies and chrysoms, for the latter are not shown as corpses shrouded for burial.  Instead, the iconography of chrysoms is more like that of effigies of knights in full armour, clerics in vestments or ladies in fashionable dress:  they all wear clothes appropriate to their earthly status.  In other words, chrysoms denote children who died in early infancy while still young enough to be swaddled. 

Chrysoms can be found either on their own monuments (Rougham, Stoke d’Abernon, Knipton, Merstham and Amillis-en-Brie), as weepers amongst living siblings (at Teynham and Gayton), or as infants held in their mothers' arms (Talland and Sheriff Hutton).  The fact that they occasionally feature a slightly later stage of swaddling with the arms left free, as at Amillis-en-Brie, confirms the interpretation that they are presented as living infants awaiting the Resurrection.

Copyright Sophie Oosterwijk

 

Click the links below for the corresponding thumbnail image. Click any image for an enlarged view. 

Robert Heyward, 1509, Teynham, Kent


Two children of the Yelverton family, John, 1505, and Roger, 1510, Rougham, Norfolk


Elyn Bray, 1516, Stoke d'Abernon, Surrey


Incised slab to John Eyre, 1523, Knipton, Leicestershire


Incised slab to Jehanne de Bauffremont, 1584, Amillis-en-Brie, France


Incised slab to Francis Tanfield, 1585, Gayton, Northamptonshire


Lost brass of Peter Best, 1585, Merstham, Surrey


Incised Slab to Joan Mellow, 1626, Talland, Cornwall


Mary Hall, 1657, Sheriff Hutton, Yorkshire






Robert Heyward, 1509

Teynham, Kent








John and Roger Yelverton,

1510, Rougham, Norfolk








Elyn Bray, 1516

Stoke d'Abernon, Surrey








Incised slab to John Eyre,

 1523

Knipton, Leicestershire








Incised slab to

Jehanne de Bauffremont,

 aged 4 months, 1584,

 Amillis-en-Brie, France








Incised slab to Francis Tanfield,

1585,

Gayton, Northamptonshire







Lost brass of Peter Best, 1585,

Merstham, Surrey


 








Incised slab to Joan Mellow,

1626,

 Talland, Cornwall











Mary Hall, 1657,

Sheriff Hutton, Yorkshire




 


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Copyright © 2002 Monumental Brass Society (MBS)

Page last updated 14 April 2003