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Alexander of Abingdon (d. circa 1320)
'The Imaginator' - Portrait Sculptor
Died: circa 1320

Alexander was probably a local Abingdon boy who trained in the masons' yard at the Abbey there. He is known from his recorded work on a number of Royal portrait sculptures, and various surviving funerary monuments of the great and the good have also been attributed to him on stylistic grounds. We cannot say exactly how or when he relocated to London, but he had probably joined one of the effigial monument workshops in the City by the 1270s. His popular epithet, ‘the Imaginator,’ certainly indicates that he was a specialist in fine figure-work carving, although he would, no doubt, have been able to turn his hand to a range of techniques.

He may have first come to Royal attention when he won a commission to execute the stone effigy of Aveline, the Countess of Lancaster (d.1273), which may be still seen today on her monument in Westminster Abbey. The monument itself was built by the master mason, Richard Crundale, and it was probably through this association that he was became recognised as one of the best stone carvers in the country. King Edward I certainly appreciated his work and gave him a number of highly prestigious orders between 1291 and 94.

In 1290, the King had felt so deeply the sudden loss of his beloved wife, Eleanor of Castile, that he commissioned twelve market-type crosses, extensively featuring the queen’s image, to be erected at the places where her body rested overnight on its journey from Harby (Lincolnshire), where she died, back home to Westminster. He also had three effigial monuments erected to her memory over the graves of her intestines in Lincoln Cathedral, her heart in the Blackfriars’, London and her body in Westminster Abbey. Only the last survives. The Royal accounts show payments were made to Alexander for the statues on the most expensive of the crosses: those at Waltham Cross (Essex) and Charing Cross (Middlesex), erected by the Crundales and Nicholas Dymenge. Three statues of the Queen from the Waltham Cross survive and may currently be viewed in the Victoria and Albert Museum. He worked with Dymenge again on the marble monument at Lincoln and made wax models for cast bronze statues both there and at Blackfriars’. He probably did the same for William Torel‘s life-size effigies of the queen at Lincoln Cathedral (since destroyed) and Westminster Abbey (extant), as stylistically the Westminster effigy does appear to be his work.

A few years later, Alexander probably produced the wooden effigy of Archbishop John Peckham (d. 1292) at Canterbury Cathedral; and, was undoubtedly working for the King again, sculpting the weepers for the monument to his patron’s brother, and Lady Lancaster’s husband, Prince Edmund Crouchback, the Earl of Lancaster (d. 1296). The earl’s effigy may also be by Alexander, although this is less certain. Here again Alexander collaborated with another leading craftsmen of the day, Michael of Canterbury. He almost certainly worked again with this man, producing the effigy for his monument to Bishop William of Louth (d. 1298) in Ely Cathedral. Nearer his hometown, Alexander seems to have carved the effigy of Joan, Lady De la Beche, at Aldworth Church in West Berkshire (c.1300), but presumably he had retired or died by the time the rest of the family ‘giants’ were made in the 1320s and 30s. Another effigy attributed to Alexander appears on the monument to Bishop William March (d. 1302) at Wells Cathedral.

In about 1305, the Imaginator was made a citizen of the City of London, and, seven years later, his only surviving non-Royal commission was issued, by William Estone, the Parson of Stanwell (Middlesex). The last reference to him comes from 1316, when he was evidently working closely with Michael of Canterbury again, presumably at Eltham Palace (Kent) where both men stood surety together for three masons accused of breach of contract over a boundary wall.

 

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