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England's only surviving wall painting in a Carthusian monastery restored in Coventry [News]]

Published: Wednesday, 05 May 2021

England's only surviving wall painting in a Carthusian monastery restored in Coventry

The only surviving wall painting in a Carthusian monastery in England has been restored as part of a major conservation project at one of Coventry’s finest medieval buildings.

A large wall painting depicting the Crucifixion which dates from c.1430 is one of three art works which have been meticulously repaired at the Grade I listed Charterhouse.

Historic Coventry Trust appointed medieval wall painting specialists The Perry Lithgow Partnership to carry out the work and a team of four has been on-site off London Road since March 1.

As well as the Crucifixion, an early 17th century fictive imitation tapestry and a further large mural from the late 16th century are set to attract visitors to Charterhouse, which is due to open in late summer 2021 during Coventry’s 12 months as UK City of Culture.

The painted sections of wall on the upper floors of Charterhouse have been cleaned, flaking paint has been stabilised and the new repairs have then been re-touched.

Mark Perry, of The Perry Lithgow Partnership, said this has been a fascinating project to be involved in.

“I first came to inspect the paintings in 2014 and so have been looking forward to working on their restoration for the last seven years,” he said.

“I think anyone who is involved in conservation would love to work on this project because it involves such significant wall paintings from the 15th to the 17th centuries.

“The earliest painting at Charterhouse depicts the Crucifixion in the centre with the Virgin Mary and St Anne on either side and several smaller figures in between. The main figures are very large and the painting would originally have covered the whole of the south wall of the monastery’s refectory. Due to extensive Post Reformation alterations to the building, only the bottom half now remains. This is the only surviving wall painting in a Carthusian monastery in England which means it is of national importance – it is one of the best pieces of Medieval art in the whole country.

“The Crucifixion is a really beautiful painting. Whilst much has been lost, large areas remain intact and in good condition, whereas a lot of medieval paintings are badly degraded.

“We don’t know who the artists were. There are very few wall paintings in England that have been signed or have historical documents related to their creation but the quality of the Crucifixion painting is extremely high. It is likely to have been somebody that was a well-known artist that came from the courts or a major religious centre somewhere in England.

“It gives a snap-shot of the building when it was a monastery before it was converted into a house in the 16th century and is a historical record of interior decoration at the time Charterhouse was built.

“The Charterhouse building itself is fascinating and when you have wall paintings as well, it is a real bonus. It is a building of which the people of Coventry should be rightly proud and it is an indication of how important a place Coventry was in medieval times.”

Ian Harrabin, Chairman of Historic Coventry Trust, said: “It has been fascinating to watch the wall paintings being carefully repaired and restored to their former glory. The colours are so much bolder now that years of grime have been cleaned off.

“Each painting is an historical record of a time in the city’s history and is a fantastic way to bring history to life for school children and the local community. I’m sure that the importance of the building will attract national and international visitors to Coventry particularly during UK City of Culture.”

There will also be interactive displays charting the site’s long history since its founding by King Richard II in 1385 as well as the recreation of part of the cloister and two monks’ cells set in the walled garden. The Charterhouse will be the focal point of the new 70-acre Charterhouse Heritage Park along the banks of the River Sherbourne – a country park in the heart of the city.

Historic Coventry Trust’s £8 million restoration of Charterhouse has been a partnership with Coventry City Council and major grants have been secured from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England and several trusts and foundations including Garfield Weston, Wolfson, Foyle and Historic Houses Foundation, Edward Cadbury and AllChurches.

Cllr David Welsh, Cabinet Member for Housing and Communities at Coventry City Council, added: “The restoration of Charterhouse is all finally coming together after many years of action by the local community to see this important heritage preserved for future generations. Seeing the meticulous restoration of the wall paintings by national experts was a real treat.

“Coventry has some exceptional heritage buildings, many of which have lain forgotten for decades, but are now being restored and repurposed to play their part in boosting the visitor economy. The Council took a bold step in setting up the partnership with Historic Coventry Trust and the result is that so much more is now being achieved than the Council could have done on its own. The recent progress across the city centre is pretty incredible.”

From the left, Hannah Jones (Historic Coventry Trust), Mark Perry (The Perry Lithgow Partnership) and Cllr David Welsh (Coventry City Council) in front of the Crucifixion wall painting at Charterhouse

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