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3DVisA Index of 3D Projects: Art History - Painting

Stanley Spencer's Church House

A digital visualisation of an un-built church, which the artist Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) intended to decorate with his paintings.

Spencer is one of the best-known English painters of the 20th century. He was born in Cookham, Berkshire, and lived there for most of his life. The village and local people inspired the characters and settings for his paintings. Although he painted other subjects, he is best known for biblical scenes and erotic portraits of women. He developed a highly individual, immediately recognisable manner which verges on the naïve and satirical and is characterised by oversized figures.

Spencer was also interested in monumental schemes. In 1927-32 he decorated the Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere with 19 paintings, which commemorated Hal Behrend, a comrade killed in the Great War. In the 1920s he pursued another project of this kind. On both occasions, he was inspired by the Arena Chapel in Padua (c. 1304-13) and its fresco decoration by the artist he greatly admired, Giotto.

Spencer worked for many years on a scheme which he called a Church-House, or Chapel of Me. It was intended as a semi-domestic and semi-sacred space decorated with paintings, arranged – as in Giotto’s Arena Chapel – in tiers across the walls, some of which he had already executed. The series of narrative paintings was to include stories from the Gospel, as well as secular themes. He conceived this complex interior as much as a sanctuary of devotion, love and reflection, as a place of mundane activities; the scheme included an altar, as well as a kitchen and bathrooms. The Church-House was never built. No detailed architectural drawings exist to accurately illustrate the artist’s vision.

The artist's sketches and notes that have survived give an idea of the Church-House architecture and show the intended placement of pictures. A drawing of c. 1926 (Tate Archive) places one of Spencer’s best known paintings, The Resurrection, Cookham (1924-7, Tate, London) on the east wall of the barrel-vaulted chancel, below a Gothic window. This large canvas (274x549cm) depicts the artist's friends and family rising from open graves by a church.

In the spring of 2001 Tate Britain staged an exhibition of paintings by Stanley Spencer and had commissioned the Centre for Advanced Studies in Architecture (CASA), Bath, to create a digital visualisation of the possible appearance of Church-House. The computer animation was shown during the exhibition.

The animation showed an imaginary church. There were no plans, sections or dimensions that would have made a more accurate visualisation possible. The animation sequence was created using 3DStudio Max on a single PC. AutoCAD and Photoshop were also used for parts of the project and the movie was edited using Adobe Premiere. Due to limited hardware resource, the animation was rendered in segments. They were joined together using Premiere to create a single continuous movie. The whole sequence took about three months to prepare and approximateley two weeks to render.

Project dates: 2001

Resource status: The computer animation was displayed at Tate Britain during the Spencer exhibition, 2001.

Contributors: Computer modelling by Henry Chow, Centre for Advanced Studies in Architecture (CASA), Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering, University of Bath, UK; Directed at CASA by Robert Tavernor; Curated at Tate by Adrian Glew.

Sources and further details: Stout, K. (2001), 'Church-House. Virtual Reality Project', Stanley Spencer, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 22 March-24 June; Hyman, T. and Wright, P. (eds), London: Tate Publishing, p. 245.

Reviews in The Independent on Sunday, 25 March 2001, The Independent Tuesday Review, 27 March 2001 and The Daily Telegraph, 28 March 2001.

Still, thumbnail images of the computer model are available at the CASA and 3thirteen websites.

Record compiled by Anna Bentkowska-Kafel. Created: 11 September 2006. Last updated: 9 January 2007.

3DVisA gratefully acknowledges the help of Professor Robert Tavernor and Henry Chow with preparation of this record.

© CASA, Tate and 3DVisA, 2006.

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