Medieval Brass Rubbings

Being a romantic, I’ve always had an affinity for the Medieval through Renaissance periods of Britain; roughly between the 5th–17th centuries. Some really beautiful artwork can be found in catacombs and tombs in churches and abbeys, particularly in England, in the form of monumental brasses, which memorialize burials of important people of the day. Brass plates were often etched in effigies of the deceased and sometimes included relatives, pets, armor, status, even occupation of the individual. For historical or artistic value, many people have sought to copy some of these brasses onto paper. I decided I’d like to do that too.

Medieval brasses date back to as early as 1015 AD, I was told, but most of the ones that have survived through the ages are from the 14th century on up to the present day. Many were lost during the Bubonic Plague or Black Death beginning in 1347 AD, building and reconstruction projects, and destruction from wars throughout Europe. Although, the largest collections of brasses are in England, others can be found on the Continent.

Much information can be gleaned from these brasses, such as style and fashion, occupations and status, genealogy, heraldry, the history of armor and even ecclesiastical history. In fact, one could spend a lifetime studying this subject. For me, though, I was interested in learning the craft of rubbing and having a couple pieces of history in my home as mementos of my trip. I have a room with a 6½ʹ tall x 4ʹ wide medieval tapestry and I wanted a couple of brass rubbings for that room, as well.

I lived in Germany at the time and researched for several months to find brasses of the right ilk and then headed for England. Unfortunately, many of the really old brasses are not available anymore for rubbing, because they have been worn down over time, but replica brasses have been made, many of which are exact copies of the originals and are available for rubbing. There are also miniature brasses for those who don’t have time to rub a large one.

To make my rubbing, I used a special black rag paper, a gold metallic, hard wax block and a smaller pencil shaped wax tool, and masking tape to affix the paper to the brass. Many people have thought that making rubbings would be easy, just like coloring. But I can tell you, if you want a really good rubbing, it takes time and patience and sensitivity in one’s fingertips to feel through the paper to the raised areas of the design in order to know where the edges are. The weight of pressing down with the hard wax tool one uses to actually rub is tricky and the consistent direction one rubs makes for a neat and attractive finished product. Achy fingers are a given, before a brass rubbing is completed, I can assure you, but the finished product, for me, was well worth it.

I now have three framed brass rubbings. A small one, I rubbed myself, which is about 26ʺ tall x 10ʺ wide, and a pair, each 3½ʹ tall x 16ʺ wide, of Sir Roger Bellingham, d. 1544 and his wife Elizabeth, d.1500 from Kendal, Westmorland, England; my knight in shining armor and his lady.

If you are interested in learning more about brasses in England you may wish to visit The Monumental Brass Society online. My brass rubbing are below. I also have some grave stone rubbings that I made here in the U.S. Have you ever done any rubbings?

P1020390             P1020400      P1020411


Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.


Filed under Art, history, How To, photographs, Travel

15 responses to “Medieval Brass Rubbings

  1. Coco, I admire your choice of artwork and also pursuing the rubbings with a historical desire in mind. One has to like old pieces and you certainly proven that with your original art piece decorating your walls alongside two others. I am a believer that what you display in your home is an extension of your character and inner soul. What an interesting blog this month with a very informative subject. Suzanne

  2. Renee Latty

    Hmmmmm???? I just may have to give this a try! Fascinating and wonder-filled story.

  3. I also did a brass rubbing in England when I was living in Germany. Sadly, I gave it as a gift to my mother-in-law before the divorce – so it is lost to me. I found one nicely framed at a garage sale one day and hung it at the Blue Belle. It reminds me of the experience of rubbing it even though it isn’t the one I did. The one I made for her will probably have the same fate one day – hopefully, someone who will appreciate it will pick it up and enjoy it for me.

    • Oh, Sherrie, I’m so sorry your rubbing was lost to you, but you have a wonderful memory and what goes around comes around. Maybe you’ll have a chance to make another, or you will receive one as a gift. Thanks so much for sharing and leaving a comment.

  4. I always loved searching out the basses in old churches when I was a kid

  5. Wow, Coco. Very interesting piece. I’ll bet your fingers ached!

  6. Wow, this is fascinating. Just . . . amazing.

  7. Bob wagner

    Your work is amazing! I cannot imagine having that amount of patience. I am building another mahogany table, turning the legs on my lathe – but the focus required for the rubbings sounds infinitely more difficult !

    • Bob, I was just reviewing my blogs and stumbled on this comment you left. I’ve tried a little wood carving and I’ve seen friend’s lathe work, which I admired. I had no idea you had an interest in building furniture. How fascinating! I can’t imagine brass rubbing requiring more focus than working a lathe. That seems very tricky and would need advanced planning and an artistic ability. Brava to you!!! Thanks so much for sharing.

  8. I found a brass rubbing of Sir Roger Bellingham in a thrift store and have wondered for years who he was. Thanks to your blog, I’ve solved this mystery!

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