Brass of the month

December 2004: Unknown, c. 1500, Cobham, Surrey

December's brass of the month is a seasonal choice. It is from a brass from Cobham, Surrey of which virtually all is gone. This small brass plate (6 ins. by 4½ ins.) is, however, of great interest as it is the only representation on brass of the Adoration of the Shepherds.

At the back of the plate is a thatched stable, in which the scene takes place, though the perspective is odd and it must be presumed that the front has been taken off. The naked figure of Christ lying in a manger is in the centre of the scene, with two animals, apparently an oxen and a cow, watching over him. In front of him is the Virgin resting on a low bed, swathed in a coverlet. She rests her head on a quilted cushion with tassels at the corners - exactly the type of cushion often shown supporting the head of the main figures on effigies and some brasses. A giant figure of Joseph stands guard over the pair. Approaching the group from the right are the three shepherds, one holding a spade and another a crook.

Though we do not even have the indented stone slab in which this brass was first set, we can guess what the remainder of the composition was like, particularly as there was once a group of 15 sons associated with this plate. It is likely that a family were once shown, with the parents above the children. They would have been shown standing or kneeling in a prayer and scrolls with the words of their prayers might have led up to the devotional panel with the adoration of the shepherds at the top of the composition.

Devotional panels were quite a common feature of brasses. The Trinity was a favourite choice, as were individual saints. Various devotional scenes like this one survive, scenes from the life of the Virgin and of Christ having been most popular. Three of the most common were the Annunciation, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

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Page last updated 05 December 2004