Tuesday, September 2, 2014



When you enter the church of All Saints, Thorney Hill in England, the altar is on your left, and behind it, the wall opens up into three separate painted bands in a mural executed by Phoebe Traquair between 1920-22.
1) the lowest band is a painted tapestry of grapes (symbols of the Eucharist), grape vines, and birds,
 with the Manners family coat-of-arms in the center directly behind the altar,
and the family crest peacock symbol on the left wall:
                                                                                               Photo courtesy Elkins and Burn, p.11.
2) the middle band presents a scene set in the local landscape of Thorney Hill populated with life-size figures standing in a semi-circle around the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus:

Above their heads and to the right (in the left in this photo) can be seen the reddish estate house of the Manners family, Avon Tyrrell, hidden in the woods, with a road leading to it and the estate's water mill further to the right:
The landscape includes other features of the actual landscape around the chapel of All Saints:  the river Avon on the left, with a duck and fish:

 and the clump of pine trees planted by the Manners on the property to the right:
Two other things to note in the earthly scene are:
a) the dove of the Holy Spirit above Mary's head in the sky:
and b) the two putti (children with angel wings) holding the banner with the title of the Church of England
prayer, Te Deum Laudamus (We Praise Thee, Lord) beneath Mary and Joseph:

3) The third painted band in the wall is above the earthly scene and occupies the entire dome of the apse; here Traquair has given us heaven, with God seated and blessing, with seraphim raising their arms in prayer (orant figures), words written between them, and children looking down over a parapet at the scene below.
Because the Holy Spirit dove is painted between Mary and the child, and God above, Traquair represents on the wall of the chapel, among other things, a Holy Trinity: God the Father in heaven, Christ the son and child in the arms of Mary below, and the Holy Spirit hovering in between.
Some of the figures are clearly singing as they stand, appropriate for the sung prayer of the title:
The viewer naturally wants to know who these people are and what they are doing singing the Te Deum in this church. Phoebe Traquair presents members of the Manners family in what appears to be almost a
Nativity scene without the animals. Traquair's Renaissance models are paintings like Sandro Botticelli's
Adoration of the Magi (1474) in the Uffizi which features living and dead members of the Medici family:
The symmetrical arrangement of groups of figures on either side of the Holy Family is similar as well.
The artist could have seen the Botticelli work when she visited Italy either in 1889 or in 1895 (see blog entry on her LIFE.) Her trips to Italy fall into the period of her mural painting in Edinburgh. In 1911 in that city she paints a self-portrait that speaks of her professional seriousness as an artist in smock and cap with intense blue eyes; the same initial signature she paints into All Saints is also here at the lower left:
When she comes to Avon Tyrrell to paint the mural in All Saints for John, Lord Manners, she is sixty-eight years old and near the end of her career. Her husband had died in 1912, but she lives until 1936. The same year she begins the All Saints mural, 1920, she is made an official member of the Royal Scottish Academy, an honor she had waited years to be given. At this point in her life she has honed the skills of setting figures into landscape and conveying the physical and spiritual attributes of the characters on the wall. The organization of the mural into three parts painted top down, from heaven, through earth, to a decorative base, shows an artist adept at transforming the wall into various worlds and an artist for whom the most important subject, the human condition, is conveyed through groups of people in prayer, both on earth and in heaven. "Heaven and earth" are two of the words painted near the seraphim in heaven. The phrase in full on the left side is:  "Holy Holy Holy Lord God of Sabbaoth," on the right, "Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory."These phrases are taken directly from the prayer
Te Deum sung every Sunday in the church of All Saints. The artist singles out "heaven and earth" to
paint on the wall in word form and in reality. Traquair's division of the All Saints' wall into heaven and earth is meant to reflect the prayer's wording and remind the viewer of the full majesty of the deity alluded to in the words that follow "heaven and earth" in the prayer.

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