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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Burton Latimer, Northamptonshire (†Peterborough) after 1600

Levi, Patriarch of Israel

Levi, from the patriarchs series, Burton Latimer, Northamptonshire

This is one of the patriarchs series painted in the nave at Burton Latimer. I have chosen to start with Levi because the painting is iconographically interesting and also because most anglophone people will have heard of him, if only from exposure to GF Handel’s great oratorio The Messiah.

Levi’s portrait is surrounded by an immensely elaborate frame, making this an early example of Mannerism in English wallpainting. On his chest is a rayed sun-motif, his right hand is raised in a gesture of blessing, and in his left he holds a flourishing branch¹ . The symbolic meaning of all this is (relatively) clear, although some of the detail of Deuteronomy chapter 33 is obscure even to Talmudic scholars – the sons of Levi will be purified, and the line of Moses will continue.

I am not sure what to make of the series of numbers from 1 to 7 painted at the left (as you look at it) of Moses’ upraised right hand. They may be related to dimensions and ratio – of finger to hand, hand to forearm and so on – but I think this is unlikely at this late date. And it is a late date – the patriarchs series may, perhaps, be considerably later in date than the ‘from 1600’ given in the very useful illustrated guidebook available in the church. It might even date from the early 18th century.

At all events, the patriarchs series is a fine one. Ten of the original twelve survive, and I will add some of the other survivors at the next update.

The paintings of the Martyrdom of St Catherine in the church have been on this site for some time.

¹ The branch resembles an ear of wheat, and this would be symbolically appropriate, I think. Opinions and (informed) ideas welcomed.
† in page heading = Diocese