The bishop’s throne in Exeter cathedral is a “monument of unprecedented grandeur,” wrote Nikolaus Pevsner, “the most exquisite piece of woodwork of its date in England and perhaps Europe”. Its date was 1312-25, and when finished its crocketed spire rose 53ft, like a tall hollyhock, into the roof vaults of the choir before the high altar.
There it stands today, its dark oak meeting our idea of what a masterpiece of carving should look like: expressing the medium in which it was made. The lightness and tensile strength of wood enable the central structure to appear to float in space. We know the very woods from which its oak was taken in 1313: at Chudleigh and Norton (now Newton St Cyres).
Yet, when it was finished we must picture it as of very different appearance. From fragments that remain, it is apparent that the whole structure was painted in blue, red and green, with gilding on a gesso ground.