Burne-Jones of Birmingham

Image: “The Beguiling of Merlin”, by Edward Burne-Jones; created between 1872 and 1877. The painting depicts a scene from the Arthurian legend about the infatuation of Merlin with the Lady of the Lake, Nimue. Merlin is shown trapped, helpless in a hawthorn bush as Nimue reads from a book of spells.

From: Penelope Fitzgerald – a Life (2013) by Hermione Lee:

“…the support Edmund Knox required as his career marched on. He became Bishop Suffragan of Coventry and Rector of St Philip’s in Birmingham, where, among many other achievements, he supervised the installation of Burne-Jones’s ‘Last Judgement’ window in what would become the Cathedral of Birmingham. Fitzgerald writes with feeling about this window in The Knox Brothers and in her biography of Burne-Jones. But her grandfather hardly noticed it, since, she would say, “he had no aesthetic sense whatever.” ”

Listed amongst items in storage at the V&A Museum, London:

“Design for stained glass – 1896 (made). Artist: Burne-Jones, Edward Coley (Sir), born 1833 – died 1898. Materials and Techniques: Photograph, with tempera and chalks.

Morris & Company commissioned this design for stained glass for the west window of St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham, which was erected in 1897. It provides an example of Burne-Jones’s practice of making photographic enlargements of his designs and then working on them further in paint and chalk. The design represents Christ at his Second Coming surrounded by angels above a town in a state of upheaval. In the foreground is a frieze of women and children, some standing on tombs from which they have emerged. The elongated figures clothed in complex folds of drapery are typical of Burne-Jones’s mature style. The design is remarkable for its subdued, even deathly, colour scheme. It lacks the intense reds and blues of the completed stained glass.”

From the website Revolutionary Players, in conjunction with History West Midlands:

Assembling the Last Judgement Window

(“The photograph shows the Last Judgement window being assembled at William Morris and Co., 8 Red Lion Square, London. Burne-Jones prepared the sketch for the design in 1889, but the window was not installed at St Philip’s until 1897.”)

From the website of Birmingham Cathedral:

“Burne-Jones was born and raised in Birmingham. He met Morris at Oxford University and they became lifelong collaborators. Burne-Jones began training for the ministry but decided instead to devote his life to art.  Previously Burne-Jones and Morris had designed and executed stained glass windows for St Martin’s-in-the-Bull-Ring and St Mary the Virgin in Acocks Green. The windows in the chancel were paid for  by Miss Emma Villers-Wilkes, in memory of her brother and she maintained a strong interest in their subject matter and design, forbidding the inclusion of oxen in the final design! 

The Ascension was installed in 1885 and the Nativity and the Crucifixion two years later. Burne-Jones records “it was in the year 1885 that visiting my native city Birmingham I was so struck with admiration at one of my works in St Philips’s church [that] I undertook in a moment of enthusiasm to fill the windows on either side. He was paid £200 for each of his designs. They are considered characteristic of Burne-Jones’ later style – elongated bodies with small heads in relation to body length and designs which divide in two equal halves, horizontally. This technique separates heaven from earth in each of the windows. The Last Judgement was installed as a memorial window to Bishop Bowlby in 1897.”

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