Room 4: Why so serious? Hubert van Zeller’s caricatures

With its focus on contemplation, it is tempting to imagine monastic life as an austere and sombre experience. And yet, the evocative sketches by one of Downside’s own monks, Dom Hubert Van Zeller (1905–84), paint a much more colourful picture. Born in Suez, Egypt, Van Zeller joined Downside School in 1914 before entering the community as a monk. A prolific sculptor and cartoonist without formal artistic training, Van Zeller claimed he could carve even before he could read, and today his works feature in churches around the world. A unique kind of historical record, his caricatures emphasise the quirks and idiosyncrasies of individual monks and capture their personalities. Working under the pseudonym ‘Brother Choleric’, Van Zeller regularly portrayed his fellow monks, and in 1954 he published Cracks in the Cloister, a playful take on monastic life that offers a charming, tongue-in-cheek commentary on the everyday dynamics within Benedictine communities.

Selected by Alice Morrey, PhD candidate, University of Bristol.

Shown here are:
- Van Zeller’s caricature of Cardinal Aidan Gasquet;
- Van Zeller’s caricature of Dom Ethelbert Horne;
- Van Zeller’s self-portrait.