Letter: Aesthetic catastrophe at King's College Chapel

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The Independent Online
Sir: In his informative article on the so-called restoration of King's College Chapel ('A season for crying in the chapel', 24 December), Graham Chainey writes that 'the church architects Maguire and Murray, unwilling to incorporate it (Rubens' Adoration of the Magi) into their designs for the east end, were sacked . . .'.

My partner Keith Murray and I were not sacked: the chapel committee, after a stormy session in which the cultured were narrowly defeated by the aesthetes, produced a situation which so compromised us that we had no real alternative but to resign.

It was we who had suggested that the picture be installed, as a temporary measure, to one side in the ante-chapel, so that fellows of the college, and the public, could assess its suitability for permanent assimilation - over which we were already aware of enormous problems. Our own hope was that sensitive people would perceive that it should remain in the ante-chapel, but at this point it was said - a matter we have never been able to verify - that a condition of the gift was that the picture should be installed 'on the centre line' of the building.

I read with interest that Tudor brick arches and extensive burials were found below the sanctuary floor, that no one within the college had ever mentioned that this would be likely to be so, and that those primarily responsible for persuading the college maintained that the floor had been level until 1774. All this is the more remarkable because, in 1961, my partner and I had prepared a report, commissioned by the chapel committee itself, which, inter alia, set out the complex history of the building's east end in a series of plans based on documentary sources. The arrangement in 1564 (at Elizabeth I's reception) shows a flight of steps; that for 1620 shows the two easternmost bays screened off as 'the place where they bury in', the final bay still being screened off for the same purpose after the changes of 1636.

These statements lead us to conclude, as we have suspected for years, that our report - which also analysed the chapel's intrinsic architectural characteristics and, by implication, denied the suitability of the Rubens - was suppressed. On reading it, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner had been so gracious as to say that he would have to revise his own published commentary on the building.

Incidentally, when Pevsner was asked his opinion as to whether the Rubens should be brought into the chapel, he looked at the colour photograph the college was using and said enigmatically, 'Too much brass. . . .' The picture, the price, or the college's acquisitive ambition?

Yours faithfully,

ROBERT MAGUIRE

Thame, Oxfordshire

29 December

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