“So shall yoe bee:” Encountering the Shrouded Effigies of Thomas Beresford and Agnes Hassall at Fenny Bentley
The Beresford Monument from the Church of St Edmund at Fenny Bentley in Derbyshire is a funerary monument that has received relatively little attention from scholars due to its unusual imagery and the lack of documentary evidence regarding its creation. The alabaster monument depicts Thomas Beresford (d. 1473) and Agnes Hassall (d. 1467) as fully shrouded three-dimensional effigies. Incised around the base of the monument are enshrouded representations of their twenty-one children. This paper analyzes the impact that veiling the bodies of Thomas Beresford and Agnes Hassall has on the effectiveness of the monument as a commemorative tool and situates the shrouded effigies within their broader visual and social context at the turn of the sixteenth century. Rather than dismiss the unusual imagery of the Beresford Monument as an expedient solution selected by sculptors who did not know what Thomas Beresford and Agnes Hassall actually looked like, this paper argues that shrouding the effigies was a deliberate commemorative strategy meant to evoke specific responses in the monument’s viewers. Although there is little concrete information about the tomb’s commission, contextualizing it by examining the monument in concert with other aspects of late medieval culture—including purgatorial piety, macabre texts and imagery, and ex votos—can provide a richer understanding of the object’s potentiality for its beholders. The anonymizing aspect of the shroud ultimately enabled viewers to identify freely and easily with the individuals depicted on the monument, which would have encouraged them to pray for the souls of Thomas and Agnes, thus perpetuating their memories and reducing their time in purgatory.
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