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The Bronzes

A feature of Kippen church that makes it remarkable is the truly astonishing collection of bronzes that were purchased and donated by Sir D.Y. Cameron. Together they form a superb representative selection of late Victorian and early 20th Century art nouveau, religious sculptures.

The best known of the bronzes are the figures of the Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth of Hungary that are housed in the little prayer chapel. These were created by the most famous British sculptor of the period, Sir Alfred Gilbert (1854-1934). In 1892 Edward, Duke of Clarence, son of the Prince of Wales, died and Gilbert was commissioned to design and construct an ornate tomb that would be located in the Albert Memorial in St Georgeís Chapel at Windsor. Gilbertís design incorporated twelve 18inch high statues of saints on a grille around the tomb and there is no doubt that the Kippen figures were intended to form part of that group.

St Elizabeth of Hungary (1899): bronze by Sir Alfred Gilbert.

The Virgin (1899): bronze by Sir Alfred Gilbert.
However, Gilbert fell into severe financial difficulties: perhaps because he took so long to complete the task, he was unable to keep within the agreed budget. Eventually he was reduced to fairly desperate measures and at some point (probably about 1903) he sold the figures of Mary and St. Elizabeth to Cameron, replacing them on the tomb with much plainer replicas.

In working on these figures Gilbert was at the height of his powers and full of wit and invention. The art historian, Richard Dorment, describes the Virgin as wearing a silver robe, its rough surface scumbled with gold. A rose bush with purple flowers and gold branches envelopes her feet and torso, then, amazingly, keeps growing over her head to form an aureole and crown. The imagery of Mary and the rose bush and of her softened crown of thorns extends far back into the Christian tradition.

St. John, by James A. Woodford.
The figure of St. Elizabeth is even more extraordinary. Gilbert interprets her legend by clothing her in a soutane, burgundy chasuble and a billowing cloak from which a mass of pink roses tumbles around her feet.

When the church was being renovated Cameron arranged for the prayer chapel to be built specifically to house these two figures. However, he also purchased from Gilbert a third, less well-known, but rather more controversial figure that had also originally been intended for the Clarence tomb. This is a statue of St. Catherine of Sienna with a figure of the Christ child in her arms and it now forms part of Kippenís beautiful baptistery, located by the east door.

The Entry Into Jerusalem (c.1930): bronze by Sir Alfred Hardiman.

The Gilbert figures alone would make the Kippen collection of bronzes exceptional, but two other statues by Sir Alfred Hardiman are also remarkably fine. One, The Entry into Jerusalem, was, about 1930, specifically commissioned by Cameron for Kippen Church. It is a strikingly beautiful art deco representation of Christ riding on the foal of an ass.

Friends of Kippen Kirk Trust is a Scottish Registered Charity No. SC034541.