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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Peakirk, Northamptonshire (†Peterborough) C.14

The Three Living & The Three Dead

Three Living & Three Dead, Peakirk, detail, living

The Three Living, are as gorgeously arrayed as any remaining in the English church. They are also differentiated in age as is often the case, perhaps an idea borrowed from depictions of the Three Magi. The oldest king is at the right, with one in middle age in the centre, and the youngest at the left. This latter figure’s crown is still just visible, but all the figures were once crowned. Their complicated and elegant robes are painted with great attention to detail. The youngest king has a sceptre tucked under his right arm, and he is the only one looking right, his hands clasped, perhaps in horror, towards the Three Dead.

Three Living & Three Dead, Peakirk, detail, Three dead

Only two out of these three skeletal figures remain and both are dilapidated and obscure now. They are certainly gruesome, and the figure at the right is still partly draped in his shroud, probably by deliberate contrast with the rich clothing of the living figures. The faintest trace of the third figure remains at the left, and there was probably also once a tree here, separating the living and dead groups.

In common with most of the paintings at Peakirk, a ‘three-dimensional’ border surrounds the scene, As the booklet in the church points out, the painter has had some trouble with the corners of this frame when deciding how to handle the transition from the vertical (especially at the bottom right, above) to the lower horizontal. This determination to overcome the vexing perspectival problem by eye, in the absence of a mathematically-based technique, is found very frequently in the best painting of this period, even in remote provincial areas like Peakirk and Moulton St Mary.

The Passion Cycle and the Warning Against Idle Gossip at Peakirk are also on the site.

† in page heading = Diocese