The full text of the Te Deum Laudamus from the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer (1660) is
Latin and English text of the Te Deum
Christ is described in the text as being willing to take human form as a child from the Virgin’s womb and the Child in this image is above the Virgin’s womb. Christ is described as being a judge, overcoming death, opening up Heaven to all believers, and sitting at the right hand of the Father. Traquair shows God the Father as judge (seated), blessing the church and its congregation, and up in heaven. The open arms of the orant figures suggest God’s opening of heaven to the believers below. The prayer also speaks of Christ as having “overcome the sharpness of death”; the cross on God’s lap reminds us of Christ’s Resurrection after the Crucifixion, and below, Francis, as the Christ Child, has overcome the sharpness of death experienced in his own family.
The next part of the prayer is a request for help from God by those who are mouthing the prayer. It asks for God to allow the singers “to be numbered with thy Saints: in glory everlasting.” Traquair’s visual image is of ordinary people already “numbered with the Saints,” already possessing haloes, and the peacock suggests the prayer has already been answered as these figures are already inhabiting the “glory everlasting,” the realm of the eternal.
The rest of the prayer calls upon God to have mercy on the prayers and affirms the faith of the congregation. There are two very telling lines in this last section. The first is the line “Bless thine heritage.” Traquair displays the heir of the estate for blessing in the afterlife by the Virgin and the Trinity. The Hon. John Neville- Manners is presented by his name saints, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, for blessing; we are reminded he is the heir by the “cap of maintenance”.[i] The request for a blessing for the inheritance is acted out in the mural, and is especially moving since nothing was left of John’s body to bless in reality. That the living heir, Francis, is the Christ Child, suggests the prayer has been answered.
The second telling line is the very last: “In thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded.” This line is a resolving of the anxiety about God’s plan. If the prayers agree that God is just and good, the occurrence of death in young people is grounds for anxiety, but the resolution is found in His Plan. The word “confounded,” however, hangs out at the end of the prayer as a plaintive cry of pain about the deaths of the three family members who are celebrated in the mural. The sad reminders in the chapel of the deaths of the two children and their mother are the reasons for the family’s sense of being “confounded”, perhaps overthrown[ii] by what has happened to them. The whole of the prayer, taken together, though, is meant to assuage the grief and mourning of a family who has suffered great losses. The mural, too, in illustrating directly the text of the prayer, is meant to work as a visual healing for the wounds of the family and the nation.
The painted image of the apse mural corresponds almost literally to the text of the hymn of Te Deum Laudamus. Traquair thought of the artist as musician and she has set the words of the prayer to music on the wall. She herself says in 1896, “An artist’s work in this world is to sing, music is his world, at times strong discords, passions which have not yet found their harmonies rush in, but it is all music, down deep at the foundation of all things the great Eternal Harmonies for every sound.”[iii] The painting presents the earthly and heavenly worlds together and emphasizes the harmony of that union with the joining of souls in the sacra conversazione with the Holy Family in the center. Human action is implied in the presentation of the dead heir to the holy figures, in the fish that have been caught in the net, in the dragon that is conquered, in the beaker of the scientist held out on display, and the basket of the mason balanced upon his head and shoulders. The figures on the wall illustrate the words of the text, but, in Phoebe Traquair's hands, those figures leap out alive from the wall, resurrected by the artist wishing to convey the worlds of science, politics, religion, poetry, and music that enriched real life in the New Forest. The painted singing figures mirror the actual singing of the Te Deum in the church of All Saints by members of the real congregation even today, a reciprocal activity envisioned by the artist for whom the visual was acoustic.
[i] Elkins, 160.
[ii] This second meaning for “confounded”, an older meaning in the OED, was pointed out to me by Lynn Fairfield.
[iii] Excerpt from a letter from Traquair to her nephew, Willie Moss, Cumming, 1993, 28; Elkins, 158.; Elkins thinks Traquair may have been a person who experienced synaesthesia, the sensation of hearing sounds for colors; if so, she tried to reproduce harmonic effects on the wall from that ability.