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The Hogback as a Sculptural Style

The hogback, as modern researchers know it, derived from a variety of sources the two most influential being Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian, in origin. As with most early sculpture, very few have been noted has having any specific date, and so most of the monuments discussed are only broadly datable to within fifty years or so.  Anglo-Saxon recumbent monuments developed in the pre-Viking Age, i.e. prior to circa AD 800 essentially, although some Viking activities were occurring shortly before.  There are several types of these which have been intensively studied in the past.  The earliest of these are widely accepted to be carved Grave Slabs.  These slabs are carved upon one face, the earliest and later ones of the series, bearing a super-imposed cross which effectively broke the field of the slab face into panels.  Regional differences in the decorations can occur, however, as can be seen by a portion of the recumbent monuments found at York Minster which can exhibit quite zoomorphic decorative motifs (Lang, 1988: 12).

Related to the Grave Slabs which are carved upon one face is the more transitional form of the Coped Slab.  This form, with a shallow roof pitch and low plinth, survives well into the Romanesque Period.  This shape appears to function as a tomb-lid when considered in its original placement, a definitive door between the living aspects of humanity and the dead (Lang 1988: 13).  Coped Cover Slabs, as mentioned, survived well into the Romanesque Period, becoming especially widespread in Scotland after the twelfth century.  In Scotland, however, the Coped Cover Slab appears to have developed directly from the Plain House Type of hogback.

Hogbacks are perhaps the closest, stylistically, to the form of shrine tombs.  Shrine Tombs, found not only in the Anglo-Saxon world but also in the earlier Celtic Christian population, were built most often for prominent members of the Church and/or saints themselves.  Those constructed as saint’s tombs would often have some form of external access to the interior, so that the faithful would be able to touch the saint’s relics.  Those of Northern England tend to follow one of two stylistic motifs.  The first group exhibit motifs which, in combination, give the skeuomorphic effect of a metal reliquary.  The second group consist of solid stone carved into a house shape with a pitched roof.  One of the best known examples of this style of shrine tomb would be the Hedda Stone which now found in Petersborough Cathedral in Cambridgeshire (Lang 1988:13).  The Hedda Stone has been used fairly frequently as a reference in hogback publications in the past because of its skeuomorphic properties which is also a primary feature of hogbacks, as we shall see.

The stylistic feature which is most important to the study, and classification, of hogbacks is the one which gives the corpus of material their name.  Hogbacks are named for their distinctive hog-backed ridge line, best viewed from the side of the three-dimensional piece of sculpture.  This curved ridge line as well as the bombé ground plans are the two strongest reflections of contemporary building styles (Bailey 1996).

The basic hogback shape is a skeuomorph of the Germanic longhouse known to the earlier Anglo-Saxons, as evidenced via the pre-Viking recumbent funerary monument style sequence described earlier, as well as incoming Hiberno-Norse and Danish of the Viking Age (Hamerow, 2004).  Some hogbacks are also decorated with carved representations of shingles, known as tegulation, which have their own regional differences as to the shape and amount of rows used.


Figure 1 Plain Type hogback from Conyer’s Chapel, Sockburn, North Yorkshire. Note the tegulation carved into the sides.

With the hogback one is able to directly view aspects of changing patronage as related to the cultural fusion created with the arrival of the Hiberno-Norse in the tenth century.  The new aristocracy in Northern Yorkshire brought with them new tastes in motifs utilized in pictorial representation, the majority of these being carvings (Bailey, 1996).  Anglian York was home to several sculptors whose, prior to the Hiberno- Norse arrival; primary patrons were the local monastic orders.  This occurred at other urban locations as well, sculptors deriving motifs from other local artisans.  This co-existence and dependence of the visual arts points to an earlier era where common design principles and mythology caused works of various media to not yet be the discrete entities they are today (Bailey, 1996).

J.T. Lang, who has written the majority of the modern works on hogbacks, gives a basic typology for the variety of hogback styles found in Northern England, the ones discussed here being the ones most pertinent to the region (Lang, 1972).  The earliest in his typology are those of the Panel Type which has distinctive end beasts, as well as panels of scroll and interlace ornamentation.  The best known examples of hogbacks such as these are the ones found in Brompton, in Northern Yorkshire.  Evolving stylistically from the Panel Type of hogback is the Pilaster Type.  Pilaster Type hogbacks have raised decorative panels, the end beasts, which were quite large in the Panel Type, are degenerating in size and execution becoming more stylized and less naturalistic through time (Lang, 1972).


Figure 2 Conceptual diagram of hogback types to help the reader understand the stylistic typology easier.  


Related to the Pilaster Type is the Niche Type of hogback is named after the semicircular niches found on their sides.  Instead of tegulation on the upper pitches there are panels of interlace (Lang, 1972).  The arched motif is suggestive of the access apertures of the earlier Anglian and Celtic saints’ shrine tombs which allowed pilgrims to touch the relics of the saints in veneration (Bailey, 1996).  Directly evolved from this style is the Extended Niche Type where the niche itself is more elongate while the end-beasts are smaller.  The horizontal panel bears surmounted ornamentation instead of interlace (Lang, 1972).  The Illustrative Type which bears carving of figures and narrative scenes under its eaves, is closely related to both the Niche and Extended Niche Types, yet does not appear to be directly derived from either. 


Figure 3 Illustrative hogback from Conyer’s Chapel, Sockburn, North Yorkshire.

Hogbacks of the Scroll Type, found in the Northwest of England and portions of Yorkshire, serves as an intermediate between hogbacks of symbolic shape and those of house shape.  The sides are quite steep with a fairly narrow section.  Decorative panels are reduced to horizontal strips.  Hogbacks of house shape do not have the distinctive end-beasts found on the earliest Panel Type hogbacks of the Brompton region.  The earlier Plain House Type hogbacks closely resemble long houses; their decorations consist primarily of skeuomorphs of architectural features such as shingling.  The Plain House Type becomes most common is Scotland where it eventually degenerates in height to become the Coped Grave- Cover of the Romanesque Period, which was mentioned previously as an earlier Anglian development (Lang, 1972).  This re-adoption of styles in Medieval British sculpture is one of the challenges of its study.  In Eastern Yorkshire the influence of zoomorphic motifs causes the Enriched House Type of hogback to develop.  The basic house shape of the Enriched House Type of hogback was embellished with both zoomorphic and more abstract elements (Lang, 1972).



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