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Works Thomas Girtin

The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG1022: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1795–96, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 37.7 × 29.1 cm, 14 ⅞ × 11 ½ in. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (WA1916.5).

Photo courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
37.7 × 29.1 cm, 14 ⅞ × 11 ½ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Parish Church; The Midlands

The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon (TG1021)
The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon (TG1023)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
89ii as 'The Ancient Charnel House, Stratford-on-Avon Church'; '1794–5'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2016


James Moore (1762–99); his widow, Mary Moore (née Howett) (d.1835); bequeathed to Anne Miller (1802–90); bequeathed to Edward Mansel Miller (1829–1912); bequeathed to Helen Louisa Miller (1842–1915); bought by the Museum, 1916

Exhibition History

Manchester, 1975, no.12


Bell, 1915–17, p.74; Brown, 1982, pp.330–31, no.720

About this Work

This watercolour is the largest of three by Girtin that show the ancient charnel house attached to the south chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon (the others being TG1021 and TG1023). The charnel house, which was removed in 1800, was built to house the skeletons needing to be reinterred after the graves were cleared to provide more room for new burials. This version of the composition was painted for Girtin’s earliest patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99). Girtin produced more than a hundred small-scale watercolours after sketches made by Moore of the nation’s medieval ruins and Gothic monuments, and this work too may have been produced after an untraced drawing by the patron. However, its larger size, comparable with the cathedral views that Girtin produced for Moore from on-the-spot sketches made on his 1794 tour of the Midland counties undertaken with the patron himself, suggests that it was not produced at second hand, though Girtin’s sketch is not known to have survived. Other than the existence of the charnel house views, there is no evidence that Moore travelled to Stratford, though it would be surprising to find that Girtin had happened upon the subject himself without the guidance of Moore. The view has no particular picturesque quality to recommend it, and its attraction as a subject must have been down to the patron and his antiquarian interests. As one of the last charnel houses to survive, the example at Stratford also had the added interest of a close connection with Shakespeare, whose tomb inside the church includes a curse that references the practice of reinterment:

Good frend for Iesus sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst enclosed heare,
Blest be Ye man yt spares these stones,
And curst be he yt moves my bones.

The watercolour is not in the best condition, but, even allowing for its faded state, it does not make the impact that one might expect from a subject so rich in potential associations, though its dark-toned palette does add an air of melancholy. The figure of the woman, in particular, located in a graveyard a few metres away from the burial place of the author of the profoundest thoughts on humanity’s mortality, fails to add to the scene in a way that a reference to Hamlet might have been expected to achieve. It may be that the artist intended the figure, bowed down by a load, as a bathetic contrast, but at this early date, and working for a patron such as Moore, with his interest in antiquarian subjects, Girtin’s attention was necessarily primarily focused on a medieval structure destined to be lost. Indeed, this is the last known record of the charnel house, the removal of which ironically opened up the more picturesque view of Shakespeare’s burial place in the chancel that we enjoy today.

1794 - 1795

The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon


1795 - 1796

The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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