Thursday, 6 October 2011

Save Roman Southwell - Roman art rediscovered

Ornate Roman plaster, which is more than 1,000 years-old, has been rediscovered in Southwell Minster.

THE Dean of Southwell Minster, the Very Rev John Guille, and Dr Will Bowden, of Nottingham University, with the rediscovered plaster artwork. (051011MW1-2)

The painted plaster from the former Church Street site of the Minster School was excavated by Charles Daniels in 1959 when the first archaeological investigation of the site took place.

It was stored in the minster but forgotten about for decades until being rediscovered by Caroline Butler, the daughter of the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Right Rev Paul Butler, in the minster’s triforium — the arches surrounding the nave and quire.

The plasterwork, which is assembled on three boards, is believed to be part of the ceiling of a cold bath house.

Another part of the ceiling, including a depiction of Cupid, has hung in the minster for many years.

The rediscovered plasterwork shows marine life such as fish and seaweed, and two figures believed to be the Greek hero, Hercules, and his lover, Hebe.

It is hoped the plasterwork will form part of an exhibition of Roman archaeology found in Southwell which will be held in the minster.

Dr Will Bowden, of Nottingham University’s archaeology department, said he knew of the existence of the lost plasterwork and was excited that it had been rediscovered.

He said: “The piece with the figures is of particular interest because it was believed to be two men but looking at it now it looks more like a man and a woman, which are likely to be Hercules and Hebe.

“It’s a very high-quality painting, which suggests it was a very high-status building so clearly emphasises the importance of the villa site itself.”

Dr Bowden said it was likely that more high-quality remains lay undiscovered.

He said there were still boxes of plaster found in the minster that needed reassembling, and other pieces.

It is believed the plasterwork was originally stored in the cellar of the Dean’s residence in the minster grounds before later being moved to the cathedral.

The Dean of Southwell Minster, the Very Rev John Guille, said: “I’m delighted to see that they have been rediscovered and I look forward to making them more available for public view.”

A member of Southwell Community Archaeology Group, Mr Peter Kent, said it was astonishing how good the plasterwork was.

He said: “If we’d known we’d have been up there to find them a long time ago.”


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