Image permission and credit: Cheltenham Ladies' College
Fitzwilliam work list 1859 ... designed the window with the story of St Fideswide in four compartments
1860 painted the Frideswide subject in oil roughly - these cartoons afterwards were made in to a screen and Mr Birket Forster now has them
The St Frideswide window design commissioned for the Latin Chapel of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford in 1859 and made by James Powell and Company of Whitefriars. The architects of the window who were Deane and Woodward, gave the artist incorrect measurements and consequently the cartoon had to be re-drawn by a Miss Oakman who spent 15 eight hour days reducing the design. The oils were then returned to the artist and were framed into an eight fold screen. Birket Forster, seeing the screen on a visit to Burne-Jones's studio in Great Russell Street unsuccessfully endeavored to purchase it but on Burne-Jones's move to Kensington Square in 1865 Birket Forster was able to purchase it. W Graham Robertson, who obtained the screen later from Birket Forster framed the eight panels separately as they exist today in Cheltenham Ladies College at this time Burne-Jones's insisted upon re-painting details to their disadvantage.
The four light window can be read from top to bottom and from left to right. It consists of sixteen compartments as follows:
1. St Frideswide and her companions brought up by St Cecilia and St Catherine
2. St Frideswide founding her first Convent
3. A messenger from the King of Mercier demanding her marriage
4. The King comes to take her by force and breakin g up her first Convent
5. & 6. The flight of St Frideswide to Abington
7. The King of Mercier and soldiers in pursuit
8. St Frideswide taking refuge in a pig sty
9. The Flight of St Frideswide to Binsey
10. The King of Mercier in pursuit
11. St Fideswide founding her new Convent in Binsey
12. Her merciful deeds
13. The return of St Fideswide to Oxford
14. The Siege of oxford by the King of Mercier
15. The King of Mercier struck blind
16. The death of St Fideswide
In this large undertaking Burne-Jones drew upon a number of sources amongst other Carpaccio's The Life of Ursula in the Scola di Sant' Orsola, Venice Academy which he visited in 1859.
Unlike the technique that he developed later with Morris and Company, all the designs for Powell 1857-1860 were made in oil, indicating the colours he recommended. Later this task was left to William Morris.
Painted in 1859; retouched ca. 1890
In the same year he designed The Good Shepherd (cat. no. 4),
Burne-Jones designed a three -light window for Powell and
Sons for the dining hall at Saint Andrew's College, Bradfield,
Kent (fig. 4). Depicting Adam and Eve after the Fall,
Building the Tower of Babel, and Solomon and the Queen of
Sheba, the window continues the use of large-scale figures
defined in blocks of color, a method also employed for a design
of the Annunciation (ca. i860) at Saint Columba, Topcliffe,
Yorkshire, Burne-Jones's only work for the firm of Lavers and
Barraud. 1 For two much more substantial commissions from
Powell's in 1859 and i860, he adopted a style closer to his own
work in ink and watercolor, adding brilliant color to narrative
panels filled with incident and numerous figures. A series of
scenes from the life of Saint Frideswide, the city's patron saint,
was chosen for a window in the Latin Chapel at Christ Church
Cathedral, Oxford, then under restoration by Benjamin
Woodward (1815-1861), the architect of the Oxford Union
Society, who may well have encountered the young Burne-Jones
during the mural campaign in the summer of 1857. As the focus
of a similar restoration of a major medieval church, Waltham
Abbey in Essex, a Tree of Jesse design for the east window was
commissioned through the architect William Burges
(1827-1881); by the time a section of it was shown by Powell's
at the International Exhibition held at South Kensington in
1862, Burne-Jones had transferred his allegiance to the firm
founded by his friend William Morris the previous year. 2
According to twelfth-century sources, Frideswide, the
daughter of the Saxon King Didan of Oxford, was leading a
virtuous life in charge of a nunnery founded by her father
when Algar, King of Leicester, demanded her hand in mar-
riage. Rather than break her vow of chastity, she fled, outwit-
ting her pursuers, while Algar was miraculously struck blind
by a divine thunderbolt. On renouncing her, his sight was
restored by the saint, who lived peacefully thereafter. 3 The sec-
tion shown here (the fifth in a set of eight cartoons, represent-
ing the upper half of the third light) depicts Saint Frideswide
in a boat, having left the pigsty where she had hidden and
reaching the safety of her convent just as soldiers pass by. The
mounted figure is strongly reminiscent (although in reverse) of
Burne-Joness pen-and-ink drawing Sir Galahad (1858; Fogg
Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.).
Burne-Jones s watercolor sketch-design (now in the Aberdeen
Art Gallery) conveys the narrative in the form of a strip cartoon
in five layers, its scenes unified by the river I sis winding to the
bottom of the composition. 4 For practical execution, however,
the design is compressed into sixteen scenes, four to each
lancet of the window, reading from top to bottom. The result
is a kaleidoscopic riot of color (predominantly red, blue, and
green) and myriad detail. Overtones of Rossettian Pre-
Raphaelitism and a deliberate quaintness infusing the overall
treatment make this window one of the most imaginative and
delightful pieces of Gothic Revival decorative art. It was the
first work by Burne-Jones to be praised by the art critic F. G.
Stephens (1828-1907), a founding member of the Pre-
Raphaelite Brotherhood, who wrote in the Athenaeum, "Each
incident is full of little illustrative points, at times pretty,
humorous or pathetic, always suggestive, apt and poetical. The
series is, in fact, the work of an artist who perfectly enters into
the heart of the mediaeval feeling, and rightly places in a Gothic
cathedral a series of designs conceived in a Gothic style." 5
Interestingly, the success of this early work was appreciated
over thirty years later by the architect Henry Wilson (1864-
1934), writing in the Architectural Review that Burne-Joness
cartoons "look less like carefully ordered designs for fixed
spaces than panels cut from some rich tapestry, crowded with
story and incident. They flash on one like glimpses of some
passing pageant made permanent for our delight, windows in
the walls of fact letting us into the world of fancy" 6 The car-
toons have had a checkered career: painted over in oils by 1862,
they were divided into eight sections and framed as a screen
that was used to furnish the Burne-Joneses' lodgings in Great
Russell Street. Acquired in 1865 by the artist Myles Birket
Foster (1825-1899), from whom Burne-Jones received a num-
ber of commissions (cat. nos. 23-25, 31 et seq.), 7 they were sold
by Foster in about 1890 to the painter and collector W. Graham
Robertson (1866-1948), who then dismantled the screen,
"framing each separately in a narrow band of black, under
Burne-Jones's direction." 8 With great reluctance, Robertson
allowed his old friend to begin retouching the cartoons, but
realised his mistake and, after a tussle, recovered them.
The set show distinct signs, especially in the broader land-
scape backgrounds, of the artist's later style superimposed
on the earlier work. The original arched top would have been squared
off in 1862.
1. Sewter 1974—75, vol. 2, pp. 1, 3, vol. 1, pi. 17, colorpl. 2.
2. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 2, pis. 23-25; a version of the center light, which may have
been the panel shown in 1862, is now in the Birmingham Museums and
Art Gallery (Mi'77).
3. The legend and its historical context are discussed in John Blair, ed.,
Saint Frideswide: Patron of Oxford (Oxford, 1988).
4. Sewter 1974-75, vol. 1, pi. 20.
5. Athenaeum, October 20, i860, p. 521.
6. Wilson 1896-97, p. 180.
7. A photograph showing the screen in a studio room at The Hill, Fosters
house in Witley, Surrey, is reproduced in Jan Reynolds, Birket Foster
(London, 1984), p. 105, fig. 68.
8. Robertson 1931, pp. 282-84. "If a picture actually wants retouching in
order, for instance, to hide an accidental injury, the artist who produced
it many years ago is the last man who should be allowed to touch it,
because, quite erroneously, he imagines himself still to be the man who
painted it and therefore falls upon it without mercy or respect."