Oh Ce­cilia

Saint Ce­cilia by John Mel­huish Strud­wick Cheshire Life: Novem­ber 2018

Cheshire Life - - Arts & Events -

On Novem­ber 22nd, bells in churches all over the world will ring out in cel­e­bra­tion of the feast day of Saint Ce­cilia, the pa­tron saint of mu­sic.

The story of Saint Ce­cilia is not a happy one. Ac­cord­ing to leg­end she was a noble lady of Rome who, de­spite hav­ing taken a vow of chastity, was forced by her par­ents to marry a pa­gan no­ble­man named Va­le­rian. Dur­ing her wed­ding Ce­cilia sat in si­lence re­fus­ing to en­gage with Va­le­rian or the cer­e­mony.

It was said that she was singing to God in her heart in­stead. On their first night to­gether, Ce­cilia told Va­le­rian that she was watched over by an an­gel sent by God to pun­ish him if he sex­u­ally vi­o­lated her. What hap­pened next is un­clear but ul­ti­mately Ce­cilia and her hus­band were mur­dered by a Ro­man Pre­fect called Tur­cius Al­machius. De­spite be­ing struck on the neck three times with a sword she lived for three more days.

Saint Ce­cilia was a pop­u­lar sub­ject in Re­nais­sance art. The op­por­tu­nity to paint an at­trac­tive young lady play­ing a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment com­bined with a strong moral mes­sage would have ap­pealed to both artists and pa­trons alike.

Un­like most other de­pic­tions of Saint Ce­cilia, Strud­wick shows her look­ing not up to heaven but down to­wards the keys of her clavi­chord. He said of this choice that ‘earth’s sweet­est mu­sic is not an echo of heaven’s mu­sic, but some­thing quite dif­fer­ent. I have made my an­gel sad-faced be­cause there’s al­ways a sad­ness in our mor­tal songs’.

Strud­wick’s work skill­fully blended Re­nais­sance and me­dieval styles as pop­u­lar­ized by the pre-raphaelite move­ment that gained mo­men­tum dur­ing the reign of Queen Vic­to­ria. Vis­i­tors to Sud­ley House are fre­quently struck by the metic­u­lous de­tail with which Strud­wick paints the fab­ric and the back­ground ac­ces­sories.

This at­ten­tion to de­tail meant Strud­wick’s speed of pro­duc­tion was very slow, a fac­tor which may have con­trib­uted to his two prin­ci­pal pa­trons, the Liver­pool ship own­ers Wil­liam Im­rie and Ge­orge Holt, with­draw­ing their sup­port and es­sen­tially pre­ma­turely end­ing his artis­tic ca­reer.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.