Ecclesiastical Law Association

Ecclesiastical Law Association

Judgments: Paintings


The Parochial Church Council sought permission to sell a painting attributed to the school of Francesco Albani and entitled "Ecce Homo", depicting a blood-spattered figure of Christ in a red cloak. The picture had been given to the church in 1921, and since then had hung on the north aisle wall.The painting was in need of a considerable amount of conservation work. The Church Buildings Council felt unable to recommend a sale. The PCC maintained that (a) the cost of insurance would be very high, (b) the painting was liable to be stolen, (c) it needed expensive restoration and would be liable to on- going deterioration, (d) whatever its intrinsic merits, the painting was not an essential part of the Church's architecture, worship or heritage and (e) a small congregation was desperately anxious to focus its available resources on promoting the mission of the Church. On these considerations the Chancellor determined that a Faculty should be granted.

The PCC arranged to sell at auction a painting of the Madonna and Child, by a German painter, Franz Ittenback (1813-1979) at a reserve of £3,000. It was sold for £20.000 to a dealer, who spent a considerable amount on restoring it before it came to the attention of the Archdeacon that the painting had been sold without the authority of a Faculty. The PCC then sought a Confirmatory Faculty. In a long judgment the Chancellor sets out the law relating to objects belonging to churches and the obligations of churchwardens, and explains that no title can pass when an object such as the painting is sold without the authority of a Faculty. The Church Buildings Council objected to the sale. The Chancellor determined that the reasons for granting a Confirmatory Faculty outweighed the reasons for not doing so.

A faculty was sought to allow the introduction into the Abbey of a diptych, one part of which portrays St. Ethelflaeda, one of the patron saints of the Abbey; the other part of the diptych depicts a candlestick. The Statement of Significance submitted by the Petitioners said that the painting was designed “to be challenging and controversial”, and to encourage “members of the congregation and visitors alike to contemplate the serenity of the abbess’s face and reflect on our own faith and spirituality”. There were 15 objectors, who did not become parties opponent. Objections included: the painting lacks artistic merit; it does not “enhance or beautify the Abbey in any way” and is “ugly”; “The ‘Saint’ is sinister and anatomically impossible and the candlestick, as often commented… looks like a giraffe neck”; the painting is not edifying/spiritually beneficial; it is “dark and disturbing”, “grotesque” ... and “raises nothing but horror”; it detracts from the architecture of the Abbey. The Chancellor decided to grant a faculty: "those who find the painting beautiful, helpful and spiritually uplifting can continue to benefit from its presence, and it can continue to play a part in the Abbey’s outreach and mission. Those who are disturbed or displeased by it need not dwell on its presence.  It seems to me that the Abbey is a large enough space, physically and spiritually, to accommodate both camps."

The petitioners (the Rector and Churchwardens) sought to dispose by sale of the painting "The Descent of Christ from the Cross", said to be from the workshop of Pieter Coecke Van Aelst, a sixteenth century Flemish artist. The painting is part of a triptych, the wings of which are in the Californian Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. The Church Buildings Council objected to the proposal. In Re St Lawrence Oakley with Wootton St. Lawrence [2014], Court of Arches, considered by the Chancellor: 'When I ... pose to myself the question:"Have the petitioners demonstrated factors of such qualitative weight as to outweigh the strong presumption against sale?" I find that I am driven to the conclusion that the only proper answer to that question is "No"'. Faculty refused.

In 1959, a faculty had been granted to authorise the introduction into the church of a painting entitled 'Ecce, Homo', which was attributed to Murillo. The Chancellor was now asked to grant a confirmatory faculty for the loan of the painting to the Bristol Art Gallery in 2012, which had taken place without the authority of a faculty. The Church Buildings Council supported the loan in the interests of the care and security of the painting, subject to a good quality copy being placed in the church. The Chancellor granted a faculty subject to that condition.

To confirm the renewal and restoration of the 31’ x 21’ mural “Christ in Glory”.

Faculty granted for the sale of the Vincenzo Damini oil study painting of the Ascension, formerly from the City Corporation Church, St Peter-at-Arches, Lincoln (demolished), then located within the parish church of St Giles, Lincoln, but latterly displayed in the Lincoln Cathedral Library. This case is referred to in Re St John the Baptist Stainton by Langworth.

Faculty granted to authorise the sale of a painting entitled "The Kiss of Judas".

Petition for the disposal by sale of a painting by Benjamin West depicting 'Devout Men taking the body of St Stephen'. Chancellor "satisfied that the petitioners have made out the necessary financial need to dispose of this painting, that any connection it may be said to have had to the parish was illegally established and to the aesthetic detriment of the church and that it should be sold to be displayed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston".