The Layer Monument

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Marble polychrome mural monument circa 1600 with Northern Mannerist figurines.

Located in the Church of Saint John the Baptist, Maddermarket, Norwich, the Layer monument is an early 17th century marble, polychrome mural monument (320 X 350 cm) installed to the memory of the lawyer Christopher Layer (1531 - 1600).

Translated from Latin its inscription reads-

This Urn of cold marble covers Christopher Layer who bore Christ in his heart along with Imperial Minds, Numa known for his justice, Fabius for his legal robe, and Cato for his strict morals. He had seen thrice twenty and thrice three years when he gave his body to be covered by the earth. He was great in years but greater with much honour, for twice he was Mayor of Norwich. His dearest wife bore him five daughters and three sons when she became a sad relic with a widow's bed. But two sons died and the one who survived his father placed here this tomb. Father died 19 June 1600 Mother died 23 January 1604.

The monument is notable on two accounts, firstly, its four allegorical figurines on its two pilasters, each of which is situated in an individual niche, Pax and Gloria, Vanitas and Labor, are rare examples of Northern Mannerist sculpture extant in Britain; secondly, these four figurines exemplify how Christian iconography during the era of Elizabeth I occasionally integrated symbolism originating from the western esoteric traditions of alchemy and astrology into works of art, including the funerary monument.[1]

The Layer monument's four figurines share a number of iconographical details to an illustration found in Alchemia (1606) by the German academic Andreas Libavius in a chapter entitled De Lapide Philosophorum (The Philosopher's Stone). They also correspond to the quaternity of alchemical 'deities' Apollo, Luna, Mercurius and Vulcan named in Atalanta Fugiens (1617) by the German alchemist-physician Michael Maier. (Emblem XVII) .[2]

Collectively the Layer monument's four figurines are a superb example of an alchemical mandala.[3] Through polarized symbolism they delineate essential coordinates associated with Mandala art, namely Space (Heaven and Earth) and Time (Young and Old). Utilizing variety and multiplicity, key attributes of Northern Mannerist art, they also represent fundamental aspects of the human condition, namely, gender, youth and age, pleasure and suffering. A fifth, quintessential element is located at the very centre of the whole monument, a large-scale skull. The commonest of all momento mori symbols in funerary art, the skull was also defined as the Vas Philosophorum in Renaissance-era alchemy.

The role of the Quaternity in religious symbolism is discussed at length by the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. In essence, the Layer monument's four figurines represent spiritual entities which agree with Jung's analytical psychology, that the psyche moves toward individuation in fours (made up of pairs of opposites), and that the Christian Trinity could be improved upon by the quaternity, through the inclusion of missing, 'inferior', or suppressed components of the psyche, such as either the feminine or evil, for example, to more fully represent the psyche's totality. [4][5][6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Frances Yates The Occult Philosophy in Elizabethan England pub. RKP 1973
  2. ^ J.B. Craven Count Michael Maier Life and Writings 1910 reprint 2003 Ibis Press
  3. ^ Adam McLean The Alchemical Mandala pub. Phanes 1989
  4. ^ C.G. Jung 'The Quaternio and the mediating role of Mercurius' CW Vol. 14 para. 5 - 13 pub. RKP 1955
  5. ^ Carl Jung 'The Quaternity of the Homo Maximus' C.W Vol. 13 para. 206 -209 pub. RKP 1968
  6. ^ The Layer monument: An Introduction and interpretation as an Alchemical Mandala. Kevin Faulkner pub. Pride Press 2013
  • The Layer Monument [1]