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The seventeenth and eighteenth century High Altar at the Cathedral consisted of a Laudian (Anglican High Church) timber canopy surmounted with an ensemble of carved drapery, cartouche and naturalistic festoons in the style of English wood carver, Grinling Gibbons. A James Cave watercolour dated 1801 shows this ensemble in position.

Since then, as a result of changes in liturgical practice and fashions, the canopy arrangement was disassembled and scattered to different areas of the cathedral with the carved drapery and festoons hanging, largely unnoticed in a worsening condition, below the south transept crossing arch.

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How we helped

WMFB supported the conservation and re-presentation of the altar carving so that it can once again contribute fully to the story of the cathedral during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.


This involved discussions with the Cathedral Chapter and Fabric Advisory Committee to agree an approach to the work, cleaning and consolidation of the object, carving of some lost elements to improve the coherence of the piece and improvements to its positioning and interpretation within the Cathedral so that visitors can enjoy it once more.

David Esterly, a US based expert in the restoration of woodcarving of this period, comments that “the composition embodies the tensions and triumphs of English carving during this period, with its nod towards the dominant Gibbons style but its stubborn grip on the older, pre-Gibbons tradition. The work has great educational value, encapsulating as it does the history of carved decoration in Britain in the second half of the 17th century.’

Why it matters

The work featured in our 2011 Mellon Lecture presented by David Esterly which took place in the cathedral giving us a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the completion of the project and Winchester.


This project is generously supported by The Paul Mellon Estate and The Gilbert Butler Foundation.