Church Monuments Society

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Epitaphs, Visibility, and the Mobile Spectator at Canterbury Cathedral



Online event

Epitaphs, Visibility, and the Mobile Spectator at Canterbury Cathedral: Join us for a fresh look at the tomb and epitaphs of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral, with Dr Jessica Barker FSA of the Courtauld Institute.

Jessica says:

In his will, written just one day before he died, Edward of Woodstock (d. 1376), also known as the ‘Black Prince’, dictated word-for-word the text he wanted to accompany his funerary monument. He also asks that the inscription be laid out in such a way so that it might be “most clearly read and seen”. This final stipulation reveals the importance of the epitaph’s location and visibility, and yet these aspects of the inscription have so far been overlooked. Previous scholarship has focused entirely on the text’s literary qualities as a striking statement on the transience of wealth, the inevitability of death and the abject condition of the corpse.

This lecture will redress the balance by interrogating the relationship between epitaph and monument. I will explore the significance of the arrangement of the inscription on the tomb chest, arguing that (despite being one poem) different sections of the epitaph were intended to address different audiences. Moreover, I will examine the disjunction between the presentation of the deceased in text and image, including the irony of an epitaph that laments the passing of riches itself being made from gold. In exploring what we can learn by “seeing and reading” the epitaph of the Black Prince, I aim to make a broader argument about the vital role of inscriptions in the visual rhetoric of medieval funerary monuments.


Dr Jessica Barker FSA is Senior Lecturer in Medieval Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Art. She is a specialist in medieval art, with a particular emphasis on sculpture. She studied at the University of Oxford and the Courtauld Institute, where she was subsequently Henry Moore Postdoctoral Fellow. She joined The Courtauld in 2018, after two years as a lecturer in world art at the University of East Anglia. Jessica’s research ranges across northern Europe and the Iberian peninsular, addressing questions of the macabre, gender, materiality and the body. She has published widely on death and commemoration, with articles in journals including Art History, The Burlington Magazine, Gesta, and The Sculpture Journal.

Event Information

This online talk is FREE to all and will take place on Zoom. Places must be booked via Eventbrite – go to to register. This is one of a series of online talks delivered by the Church Monuments Society for Spring 2023. For information on the rest of the series and on other events, go to

JOINING INSTRUCTIONS: You should receive a link from Eventbrite two days before the event, two hours before the event, and just as the event begins. If you have not received the link, contact us via Eventbrite so we can try to resolve this.

Guidelines and handy Zoom hints

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Image Credit: Dr Jessica Barker