Empty Niches and Ambiguous Iconography: Using Scenography and Art History to solve the puzzles of Royal Holloway’s Chapel

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


In the 200 years since its completion in 1886, Royal Holloway’s chapel has attracted curiously little scholarly attention. This situation is initially surprising given its finely carved Neo-Renaissance liturgical furniture, gilded wallpapers and the intriguing iconographic scheme contained in the apse and bas-reliefs. The lacunae in our knowledge regarding this architecturally and theologically important space can be attributed to both incomplete documentation and the inherent puzzles within. Amongst its most perplexing aspects are the 12-empty but shallow niches with saint’s names above them which punctuate the nave. Did the architect intend them to be filled and if so, why do they remain empty and how would their contents have engaged with the rest of the chapel? Our paper would show how this art historical problem was partly answered through a scenographic project bringing practice-based research to the discipline. Drama students specialising in scenography were asked to produce proposals to fill these niches. The combination of archival research, secondary reading on art and sacred space and the practical research needed to design their scenographic solutions bought new understandings of the performative aspects of the space to the fore, making sense of the puzzling iconography. Beyond this specific example, this paper will show how multidisciplinary research can be successfully executed in the university environment.
Period24 Oct 201827 Oct 2018
Event titleNORDIK XII
Event typeConference
LocationCopenhagen, DenmarkShow on map