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Stellar vaulting and polished timber carving

Edwin Smith’s photograph offers a glimpse of the spectacular stone roof of Divinity School, Oxford, through the carved wooden panels of Convocation House

Credit: Edwin Smith/RIBA Collections

Built between 1427 and 1483, the Divinity School in Oxford is the oldest purpose-built university building still in use today. Rectangular in shape, it is physically attached to the Bodleian Library to the east and is connected at its west end to the Convocation House, added in the 1630s. This photograph shows the Convocation House’s beautiful original panelling with pedimented arches and the plain stalls with balls on the ends, and offers a glimpse of the spectacular stone-vaulted roof of the Divinity School, one of the highlights of late Gothic architecture in the country. The elaborate lierne or stellar vaulting is enriched with more the 400 carved bosses, one of which bears the name of its creator, local master mason William Orchard. Visible through the door are the transverse arches that bear the main weight of the roof and the exquisite pendants with small carved figures. This beautiful composition, leading the eye towards the main space and using the soft light to highlight the texture of the wood panelling, was taken by the great British photographer Edwin Smith in 1959.