Ely Cathedral and Close
Drawing: Peter De Wint (c. 1820)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Drawings & Archives Collection
This delightful sketch contrasts the cathedral with its more humble surroundings. The low, ancient houses tumble in on themselves, their rooflines a jumble of chimneys and dormer windows. These appear overwhelmed by the cathedral’s west tower: tier after tier of rounded arches pile up above their roofs. The masonry’s strong horizontal lines, combined with the battlements’ regimented forms, seem a world away from the warped and patched up forms of the houses below. High up, the tower’s upper stages appear lost in a haze.
Peter De Wint (1784-1849) is best known for his landscape painting. His work is renowned for its originality in technique, and its ability to convey atmosphere. This chalk sketch is economical, could be said to be unfinished, and yet tremendously expressive. In a relatively few strokes, De Wint captures the power of the cathedral, and the charm of the Close. Predominantly charcoal, white chalk highlights add depth and life, notably with the old lady in the foreground.
How different this is to Horsley’s later, laboured perspective. The RIBA has only a few sketches by De Wint: this is an unexpected treasure, one of many surprises in the collection.