MEDIEVAL artwork discovered at Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall in Stratford is being hailed as internationally important.
A six month study by architectural historian Dr Jonathan Foyle included confirmation that among the building’s internal wall paintings are the remains of a depiction of the Last Supper.
Fragments of the Last Supper painting can still be seen, located in what is now known as the Master’s Chamber, built in the 1420s.
Believed to have been used as a refectory by the Guild, on the wall can be seen 13 alternate red and white stripes with stylised sprigs below. Each stripe is capped by a shield of contrasting colour and inside each can be seen the remains of a head with a halo – and although faces were scratched out by religious reformers in the century that followed, the outlines remain.
The central one displays the four-lobed halo of Christ and is identified in the middle of the 12 apostles at the Last Supper.
In 1441 a new constitution was declared stating that masters and priests should take meals together regularly, which gives an implied date for the work.
Dr Foyle said: “This places Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall among the many European guilds, confraternities and monasteries who express their religious brotherhood through enactments of the Last Supper.
“Fine examples of mural paintings of this theme can be seen in the refectories of 15th century Florence, but the most famous is Leonardo da Vinci’s version in the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, painted half a century after Stratford-upon-Avon’s simple scheme.”
At the centre of public life for centuries, Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall fulfilled many different functions – its key ones being as a chapel, ourt of record and school.
Shakespeare’s father John, during his tenure as Stratford Bailiff (Mayor), was actually responsible for white-washing the Catholic wall paintings that have been the focus of much attention by historians today – their work made all the more challenging by the historic attempts to obliterate them.
Work was carried out to restore and conserve the Guildhall paintings in 2015/6 and display them for visitors. During this project, primarily funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, a major finding was made by the conservation team when a fully formed image of John the Baptist was discovered on the timbers of a large scheme in the Priests’ Chapel – a space where priests of the Guild could say their private prayers. This piece is now recognised as a category 4 grade artwork, the highest grade and one which puts it on the same level as the Bayeux Tapestry.
Dr Foyle has undertaken an in depth study of the Priests’ Chapel, where the painting of John the Baptist takes his place as part of the Trinity, with God the father cradling a crucified Christ, stood alongside the Virgin Mary.
To give visitors a greater indication of what the wall painting in the Priests’ Chapel would once have looked like, Dr Foyle has created an original painting. This will be presented alongside a film that tells of the story of the painting, which at the end enables visitors to see the remains of the original wall painting.
Lindsey Armstrong, General Manager of Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall, said: “Every aspect of this building is bursting with stories to discover, which we are progressively understanding more about thanks to the work of experts such as Dr Jonathan Foyle.
“Alongside the fact that we are in the very place where William Shakespeare’s genius was shaped as a young boy, we can step further back into time and reveal more fascinating chapters of history and findings to visitors.”
Visit shakespearesschoolroom.org for further information on Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall.