Saturday, 23 June 2018

Burne-Jones's mosaic in Rome

Chiesa di San Paolo entro le mura (St. Paul's Within the Walls) is a Protestant church designed by  George Edmund Street and built  in 1873-1880. It was the first non-Catholic church built in Rome after Papal jurisdiction was reduced to the Vatican in 1870, and ministered to the growing community of American residents and visitors to the city.
The red-and-white exterior, in travertine and red brick, looks out of place in late-Baroque Rome, but reflects northern Italian Gothic architecture of which Street had made a special study. It also pays respects to the tower of Santa Maria Maggiore, nearby.
The internal mosaics are by Edward Burne-Jones, whose compositional skills, colour sense and theological sensitivity enabled him to create designs perfectly in keeping with the mosaic means as well as his own well-crafted aesthetic. 
The top pic is from the church's website, the one below taken on site and oddly bleached by the light.  It is a very impressive effect, but also restrained.   Similarly, the apsidal scheme offers homage to that by Jacapo Torriti in Sta Maria Maggiore, but without that scheme's full-on Catholic veneration of the Virgin, which Protestants do not endorse. 
Instead, EBJ's iconography includes the Annunciation set in a desert landscape.  Below this a Tree of Life with Adam and Eve and children, which is also a Crucifixion.  Then Christ Enthroned in the Heavenly Jerusalem and on the main register The Earthly Paradise or The Church Militant, with massed ranks of pious women and men and a phalanx of high-stepping horses. 
One senses that EBJ had fun designing all this, ignoring St Paul's preaching and epistles.

IN FACT as Scott Buckle has shown from a surviving study of the white horse, the horses and sundry other details including heads of saints and martyrs, were drawn by Thomas Rooke, who had a hand in or finished various pieces by EBJ.  Presumably the components of the  scheme were in EBJ's design, and Rooke was practised in emulating the style; so to whom should the ensemble be credited?

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