Homage to Thomas Browne by Anne & Patrick Poirier 2007
This work has been removed from Hay Hill and will be reinstalled in Eaton Park in Summer 2024 - more news then
Commissioned 2005 and officially opened July 2007. This post will remain to show the work from 2007-2023
The story of 'Homage to Thomas Browne' - a living room for the city
This piece of work, a Homage to Thomas Browne is greatly used and poorly understood by many people who live in Norwich, who daily cross the site and sit on the 'stones' to eat their lunch or meet their friends for a chat. Generally, they have no idea who Thomas Browne is, or how the sculptural stones relate to him. And they mostly don't know who the guy is on the podium outside Next who looks down over the square, with something in his hand and (usually) a pigeon on his head.
In fact, the sculpture has a very strong and compelling story and an intrinsic relationship with Thomas Browne. The artists, husband and wife team Anne & Patrick Poirier commissioned in 2005 through a stringent bidding process run by Commissions East on behalf of Arts Council England, Norwich City Council and Norfolk County Council using money earmarked for public art from the refurbishment of Norwich Market.
Originally, the artists were asked to make a piece for the main market site but as the redesign got very complicated, with market traders up in arms, the site was handed over to architect Michael Innes. As a result, the artists were asked to make a piece of work for Hay Hill instead which was an ancient market place.
They soon realised that this was the 'home patch' of Sir Thomas Browne as he lived nearby where Pret a Manger is now, his garden wasa where Primark is, and he was buried in St Peter Mancroft Church. As a result they designed the work as a homage to his life and work in Norwich in the 197th century. Part of the brief was to make Hay Hill into a more enjoyable public space with seating to enable people to sit and rest in a busy city centre environment. The square had been neglected and was full of ramshackle market stalls. It is a cross roads route as people move from Norwich Lanes and the market to St Stephens and from Jarrolds to Chapelfield, a crossing point.
Although there are amphitheatre-style steps around the square, its use as a performance space was not fulfilled, especially since the nearby public space on Millennium Plain outside the Forum took over in popularity for larger events - though Hay Hill remains popular with buskers and could be used more for spoken word artists and smaller performances if it were to be programmed.
There is also a shortage of nice places to sit in the city centre so the artists conceived as a 'Salon (Living Room) for the City'; the sculptures are, in fact, street furniture, and the lights an integral part of the work.
Just looking at the sculptures and their arramgement, they don't make sense to many people unless they already know about Sir Thomas. The documents on this page help to explain, or you can read more below.
The artists, Anne and Patrick Poirier are well-known for working in an archaeological manner and the sculptures are meant to look as though have just scattered randomly over time, much as classical ruins might but in fact are arranged on a quincunx pattern which Browne believed underpinned all natural life.
The sculptures were made in an artists' workshop in Pietrasanta at the foothills of the Carrara mountains, famous for its marble (although the black granite comes from Zimbabwe). Michaelangelo had his work made in the same town, and possibly even the same stone yard which has been a family business for centuries, producing religious statuary for artists, churches and town squares. In these pictures, they are brand new and ready to be transported to Norwich.
'The World to Mee is but a Dream'
Interpretation board for Hay Hill
Homage to Thomas Browne was conceived as a place for people to pause in the busy-ness of the city, to sit and contemplate the world as Browne may well have done in the 17th century.
The sculptures were designed as durable street furniture to enable people to meet friends, or sit quietly in a city-centre space. The 'art' is not so much in the visual sculptures but in the effect they have on people. It is not necessary to 'understand' them to enjoy them. In addition, if they stimulate curiosity into the person and work they refer to, that is an added bonus.
It is well-used, in spite of occasional calls to remove it !
The Essential Guide to Homage to Thomas Browne can be downloaded here - it tells the story of their commissioning and design
More details can be found at RACNS (Recording Archive for Public Sculpture in Norfolk & Suffolk), a project to catalogue the public art of the two counties by Richard and Sarah Cocke.
This is a computer modelled 3D visualisation of the work before it was installed made from drawings. It was commissioned from the Urban Modelling Team at UEA. It clearly shows the Quincunx pattern which is the structure on which the sculptures are placed.
Religio Medici (1643)
Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Vulgar Errors (1646–72)
Hydriotaphia or 'Urn Buriall' (1658) is an intriguing meditation on death and the desire for immortality.
The Garden of Cyrus (1658)
A Letter to a Friend (1656; pub. 1690) and Christian Morals offer spiritual guidance to readers, and his friend.
Quotes and references to these major works are engraved on the sculptures of Homage to Thomas Browne on Hay Hill in Norwich as well as words and phrases that he coined such as 'eternitie' and 'amphibian'.
The gold images on the backs of some of the seats are to represent the rooms and chambers of the mind, and the use of black granite references the tombstones in St Peter Mancroft Church.