Once you have seen Stonehenge, it is impossible to banish from your mind the daunting, primaeval image of uprights capped by lintels, whether they be the inner trilithons or the surviving uprights and lintels of the outer stone circle; the very simplicity of the architecture places it in the same immediately unforgettable class as the pyramids of Egypt.
If the ruins on Salisbury Plain exert such a fascination upon us all today, when we are swamped with images of different constructions from different continents and different eras, then it becomes inevitable that Stonehenge presented a truly unforgettable sight to everyone who saw the place in prehistoric times.
Whatever the functional purpose of this unique monument, it is highly likely that the people who built it were fully aware of its power to captivate everyone who gazed upon it. I suspect that this property was intentional, not accidental, while the sheer scale of the construction strongly suggests that the people who built it believed that it would endure for eternity and would continue to haunt the memories of all those who visited the site long after the original builders had died.
And so it has proved. Stonehenge receives roughly one million visitors a year, it is the subject of endless discussion on the internet, it features regularly on the news and it has inspired many books, both factual and fictional. Along with the pyramids of Egypt, perhaps, Stonehenge virtually embodies our fascination with a distant, mysterious past, a romantic, evocative era whose secrets seem forever to be tantalisingly out of reach.
We are all aware of this elusive and hypnotic quality, but some people have managed to capture it in words. Lord Byron observed “The Druid’s groves are gone – so much the better. Stonehenge is not, but what the Devil is it?” while the antiquarian Richard Colt Hoare remarked of Stonehenge “How grand! How wonderful! How incomprehensible!” These two quotes are memorable enough, but my personal favourite comes from the visionary genius Sir Arthur C Clarke, who once wrote, “Only one thing can be stated with certainty about such structures as Stonehenge: the people who built them were much more intelligent than many who have written books about them.”
Christopher Chippindale’s Stonehenge Complete contains 285 or so excellent illustrations, but I have yet to see a depiction of the monument that can compete with those produced by the artist Anne Sudworth. As far as accuracy goes, her pictures are superior to many representations or graphic illustrations I’ve seen of the monument in books by professional archaeologists, but there is far more to her work than simply a meticulous eye for detail.
Any appreciation of art is always going to be a subjective matter, but I was stunned when I first saw Anne’s artwork, especially those pieces dealing with Stonehenge. The paintings are imbued with an almost tangible atmosphere and she somehow achieves this effect without resorting to devices such as peopling the ruins or the surrounding landscape with figures performing ceremonies or raising their hands in supplication to unseen gods. The Stonehenge in her paintings is the Stonehenge we see before us today, minus the walkways, roads and visitors, while the ruins possess an otherwordly allure that is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a representation of the very real magic that draws us there by our millions. I imagine that the stone monument radiated a similar attraction in the distant past, when it was a Wonder of the World that drew visitors from as far away as the Alps and perhaps further.
I imagine that the people who built Stonehenge would be pleased to learn that their creation still captivates us over four thousand years after it was built, while I also imagine they’d be pleased that someone with such talent as Anne possesses has devoted their time towards capturing some of the enchantment of the stone monument in the form of paintings that we can all appreciate without having to huddle in the cold on Salisbury Plain.
Anne does not do commissions, which is a great pity, but she has told me that as well as the other paintings of other ancient sites that can be viewed on her site, she has painted Silbury Hill, something I very much look forward to seeing. In the meantime, you can look here at Anne’s work for yourselves, if you wish, while I only hope that you enjoy gazing at her paintings one half as much as I did.
Stonehenge pictures reproduced by kind permission of Anne
Sudworth & copyright Anne Sudworth
Words by Dennis Price 2007.