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Memorial Brasses

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Just when memorial brasses first came into use is not known; the earliest existing dated examples are of the thirteenth century. They apparently originated from a desire to produce memorials of greater durability than the incised stone and marble slabs then in use, and their lasting value has been proved by the fact that they are incomparably in better condition than contemporary incised slabs of the hardest stone. The material of which they were made was principally manufactured at Cologne and thence exported to all parts of Christendom ; it is called laton , an alloy of copper, zinc, lead, and tin, beaten into thick plates of various sizes. England was the largest consumer, and in spite of the rapacious plunderers of the Reformation, Puritanic violence, and neglect, between three and four thousand brasses of the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries have survived. The persons commemorated were as a rule represented upon the plates usually life size, by deeply incised lines with very little attempt at shading, surrounded by architectural and heraldic accessories and inscriptions. In some cases the incisions were emphasized by black and red enamels, while in others the brasses were further embellished by the introduction of many-colored Limoges enamels. These memorials attained their greatest artistic excellency in the fourteenth century, and then slowly deteriorated, becoming very much debased during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, reaching their lowest type in the eighteenth century, when they ceased to be employed until the Gothic revival brought them again into use. A great deal of time has been given by archaeological investigators to the study of monumental brasses, and many finely illustrated works on the subject have been published; almost every county in England has one or more books upon those with in its borders. Haines's "Manual of Monumental Brasses", with its 200 illustrations, is invaluable to the student; while the magnificent folio volume of colored plates issued in 1864 by J. G. and L.A. B. Waller covers the ground of English brasses, and that of W. F. Creeny (London, 1884), fully describes those on the Continent. Military brasses can be studied in the transactions of the Yorkshire Architectural Society for 1885, and a history of the destruction of all kinds of brasses during the progress of the Reformation in Weever's "Ancient Funeral Monuments" (London, 1731).


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