By LEIGH HATES VALERIE THORNTON'S "Dun Cow" etching reminds us that Durham Cathedral was built on its high rock as the result of a milkmaid and her cow indicating St Cuthbert's final resting place.
The strategic importance of the cathedral with its natural moat, is well illustrated in Artists and Images at Durham Art Gallery (daily except Mondays until October 30; 75p but free on Fridays). This is the most rewarding of several exhibitions marking the great church's 900th anniversary.
In preparing the show, Curator Patricia Andrew has been overwhelmed by the volume of material discovered after a trawl through Commonwealth, European and American art galleries. She even found a Durham Cathedral painting in Queen Mary's Dolls House at Windsor. After ruthlessly excluding all internal decorations, stained glass designs and pictures of St Cuthbert she sdil says: "Rather than attempt to list all the artists who have depicted the cathedral, it is easier to list those few who have not done so." As the most breathtaking view of the cathedral is from the railway, it is appropriate that some LNER posters by Fred Taylor have been included. These are the Durham images which were seen across the land in the 1930s. One is a rare view down the Norman nave cleared of seats a century after Edmund Hastings had painted the view west from the high altar.
On a British Railways poster is the view across the River Wear to the Prior's Mill, at the end of the weir below the cathedral west end on the clifftop. It is so powerful that in a wider view, for a railway carriage print, the next door castle has been deemed unnecessary and omitted. The current photographic cover of the "Land of Prince Bishops" tourist leaflet is the same view. It was tacIdeci as early as 1806 byJolan Sell Cotrnan who also
sidelined the castle. The artist, who had only visited Durham to please his holiday landlady, described the view as "magnificent".
Frank Brangwyn's railway poster of the cathedral and castle from below Framwellgate Bridge is re-run of the view chosen by both Girton and Turner who were both there in 1799. But ewe prolific Turner did not manage to visit all England's medieval cathedrals. Dennis Creffield has camped alongside each one, and his rharcoal sketch of the twin towers from the monks' garden represents his important Durham work. In 1987 he attempted to live with the building and Patricia Andrew says that it is only since the 1980s that artists have turned from Durham's familiar architectural symbolic image to make a personal response on a spiritual level.
This coincides with the addition to the cathedral staff an Artist-in-Residence who holds office for a year. The Residency is within the precincts, giving the artist time to become part of the living worshipping community. Last year's artist Jo Burns described her task as finding a way which would "transcend the cliche of the picturesque and give the subject the resonance and dignity it deserves".
It is a hard task for, as Creffield says, the best views are from a distance. The inclusion of the resident artists serves as a taster for a planned 1996 exhibition devoted to their work. This past decade may prove as fascinating as the 350 years now being featured.