24th October 2016
In our last post, we talked about the exhibition running at Bradford Cathedral celebrating William Morris. It couldn’t be left unsaid however, the beauty of the stain glass windows Morris & The Firm produced for the cathedral. It’s amazing when you’re researching Morris how widely spread his reputation was in the art he created, as word of mouth alone brought him much of his business.
John Aldam Heaton of ‘Woodbank’, Harden, suggested the cathedral commission the stained glass window to Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. Although only their third commission, the standard they produce made the group commissioning the piece confident. Heaton noted at the time, “the old tracery (of Jacobean character) was considered unfit to receive this valuable glass and it has been replaced by an entirely new window of the Perpendicular type, as more in harmony with such portions of the old church as remain.” (The tracery are the stonework elements which support the glass in these kind of gothic windows.)
Because all of the work carried out in The Firm was noted down, we know that Morris himself designed the angels in the top of the design, as well as several of the figures. His associates completed the rest of the work, including Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Peter Marshall, Philip Webb and Ford Madox Brown.
As described in the guidebook by Bradford Cathedral, the window theme could be described as “Witnesses to Christ.” From the guidebook, written in conjuncture with the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society, we can learn more about the different aspects of the window. “Jesus, in the upper centre light, is surrounded by four tiers of figures representing, in descending order, the Women who ministered to him, the Evangelists, the Patriarchs, and the Prophets who foretold his coming. The right hand of Christ in Majesty is raised in blessing and the left hand holds a golden orb surmounted by a cross. This is the work of Rossetti. The venerable figure of the patron saint, Peter, designed by Peter Paul Marshall, occupies the lower part of the central panel. His green cloak discloses a white robe, and from a golden chain round his neck hang two not very traditional keys and a bible. The panel is completed by Philip Webb’s Agnus Dei, the lamb being separated from the figures by a border of daisies within circles.”
Installed in 1864, before this piece was added when renovations began, the windows were mainly plain and modest with only a small amount of heraldic detail.
Morris was hugely influenced by the work of Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin, who wanted to reinstate values of past times to improve society. Morris aimed to provide affordable ‘art for all.’ The company Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co. therefore worked within all the decorative arts. Though Morris’ is perhaps best remembered for his wallpaper and textile designs, he also designed and created embroideries, such as the alter frontal textile currently at Bradford Cathedral. He always specialised in tapestries, stained glass windows and other of the traditional arts which had been forgotten with the rise of industrialisation. Whenever we write about Morris’ life work, we wonder how he fitted in the time mastering all of the crafts he did; learning all the hand making processes, learning the best techniques when working with the materials so that he could pass on his skills.
The windows The Firm created are beautiful, the detail as shown in the photos makes it seem unbelievable that they’re made with glass. If you get a chance to visit the Cathedral, it’s well worth it.