05 November 2023

A Pre-Raphaelite
wedding painting in
Southwark tells of
change and reform

William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), ‘London Bridge on the Night of the Marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales’, in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Charlotte and I stayed on Friday night in the Hoxton, Southwark, beside Blackfriars Bridge and a stone’s throw from the River Thames and South Bank’s galleries and food markets. From there, it was a short distane on Saturday morning to Southwark Cathedral, beside London Bridge.

I was reminded in both places of a painting by the Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), ‘London Bridge on the Night of the Marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales’, that hangs in the Pre-Raphaelite collection in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Holman Hunt was among the crowd on London Bridge on the night of 10 March 1863, celebrating the marriage of the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, and Princess Alexandra of Denmark, the eldest daughter of Prince Christian of Denmark, later King Christian IX. They were married in Saint George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 10 March 1863; he was 21 and she was 18.

That wedding day 160 years ago was declared a national holiday, and nationwide festivities were organised throughout the land to mark the occasion. Among the crowds of revellers that night who found themselves on London Bridge was the artist Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt, who had also attended the wedding ceremony earlier in the day.

Holman Hunt was interested in the practicalities of how to show historical events through the experiences of ordinary people, and the scene on London Bridge provided him with the perfect subject. He made sketches of the scene, but he did not complete the work until 16 May 1864, and later he retouched several areas of the painting in 1866, three years after the wedding. The painting, in oil on canvas, measures 98 x 65 cm (38.5 in x 25.5 in), and is signed in monogram and dated 1863.

Holman Hunt was fascinated by the contrasts of natural and artificial light and by the ‘Hogarthian humour’ of the crowds. He decided to include himself and several of his friends and acquaintances in the painting. He is in the left-hand corner, arm-in-arm with the Oxford patron of the Pre-Raphaelites, Thomas Combe (1796-1872), in a top hat.

Combe was the Superintendent of the Clarendon Press, now the Oxford University Press. He and his wife Martha Combe (1806-1893) are commemorated by a blue plaque at Saint Barnabas Church in Jericho, Oxford. They were supporters of the Oxford Movement and good friends of John Henry Newman, and Combe had also been a churchwarden at Saint Paul’s Church, Oxford. Holman Hunt came to live at their home, the Printer’s House in Jericho, and it was there he painted ‘The Light of the World’ for the chapel in Keble College.

The artist Robert Braithwaite Martineau (1826-1869) is also in this painting. Holman Hunt and Martineau were life-long friends: they had studied together, and they had once shared a studio.

Although Combe and Martineau were both friends of Holman Hunt, it is not clear that they were both on the bridge at the time of that wedding celebration that evening in 1863. Yet, more of Holman Hunt’s friends are in other parts of the painting, suggesting he understood their importance in the social scene of England during this era. Martha Combe is in the painting too, as is John William Millais, father of another Pre-Raphaelite painter, Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1879), and the painter’s brother.

Unusually, the frame of the picture was designed by Holman Hunt too. There are elements in the frame that celebrate the wedding and the merging of the royal families of England and Denmark, and the coat of arms of both families is clearly visible.

The wedding painting was bequeathed to the Ashmolean by Thomas Combe’s widow Martha in 1893.

This modern Victorian social gathering for this wedding, the site and the unusual lighting created by the gas lighting come together create a painting that is an historical social comment that celebrates the event and all that is Victorian.

But, with his juxtaposition of the gaslight on the bridge with the moonlight in the cloud strewn sky, Holman Hunt is perhaps both commenting on the celebration and expressing his fears or angst that the royal wedding represented the industrialisation of the era and the social reforms and changes that were being ushered in.

William Holman Hunt also designed the frame for his painting ‘London Bridge on the Night of the Marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in the Kingdom Season
with USPG: (1) 5 November 2023

Inside the Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This time between All Saints’ Day and Advent in the Calendar of the Church of England is the Kigndom Season, and today is the Fourth Sunday before Advent (5 November 2023).

After our eventful two days in London, Charlotte and I returned to Stony Statford last night. Later this morning, I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford. But, before today begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

In recent prayer diaries on this blog, my reflections have already looked at a number of Italian cathedrals, including the cathedrals in Amalfi, Florence, Lucca, Noto, Pisa, Ravenna, Saint Peter’s Basilica and Saint John Lateran, Rome, Siena, Sorrento, Syracuse, Taormina, Torcello and Venice.

So, this week, my reflections look at some more Italian cathedrals, basilicas and churches in Bologna, San Marino, Pistoia, San Gimignano, Mestre, Sorrento and Ravello.

Throughout this week, my reflections each morning are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on an Italian cathedral or basilica;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro in Bologna (Photograph: ABC Communicazione / Bologna Experience)

The Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro, Bologna:

Bologna’s Cathedral, the Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro or Cattedrale di Bologna on Via Indipendenza, is dedicated to Saint Peter. Most of the present cathedral dates from the 17th century, but some parts date from the late 16th century.

A cathedral has stood on this site since at least 1028 and had a pre-Romanesque campanile with a circular base, similar to the style of churches in Ravenna. This church was destroyed by a devastating fire in 1141. It was rebuilt and was consecrated by Pope Lucius III in 1184.

A high portico was added to the west front in 1396 and was rebuilt in 1467. The painters Francesco del Cossa and Ercole de’ Roberti from Ferrara worked in the Garganelli Chapel from ca 1477, creating frescoes that later influenced Niccolò dell’Arca and Michelangelo. Apart from a few fragments, these frescoes were lost in later reconstruction.

When Pope Gregory XIII made the Bishop of Bologna an Archbishop in 1582, the cathedral became a metropolitan church.

Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti began a radical remodelling of the cathedral in 1575. The crypt and the Greater Chapel (Capella Maggiore) survive from that time. However, the alterations were so extensive the vaults collapsed in 1599, and it was decided then to rebuild the main part of the cathedral. Work on the new building started in 1605. A new façade, added in 1743-1747 on the instructions of Pope Benedict XIV, was designed by the architect Alfonso Torreggiani.

The works of art in the Baroque interior include the Annunciation by Ludovico Carracci, a Romanesque Crucifixion in cedarwood, and an early 16th century sculptured group in terracotta by Alfonso Lombardi depicting the Compianto su Cristo morto (‘Lament over the Dead Christ’). The early 20th-century paintings by Cesare Mauro Trebbi (1847-1931) in the apse including ‘Saint Anne in Glory.’

The early campanile has never been rebuilt. Instead, a new external bell tower with a height of 70 metres was built around the existing one between the 12th and 13th centuries. The campanile is the second tallest tower in Bologna, after the Asinelli Tower. The bell in the bell tower is known as ‘La Nonna,’ weighs 3,300 kg, and is the largest bell that can be rung by the Bolognese method of bell-ringing.

‘Compianto su Cristo mortom’ (‘Lament over the Dead Christ’) by Alfonso Lombardi, dating from the early 16th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 24: 1-14 (NRSVA):

1 As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 Then he asked them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ 4 Jesus answered them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!” and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

9 ‘Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10 Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But anyone who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.’

The baroque interior of the cathedral is richly decorated (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Sunday 5 November 2023):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Community Health Programmes’. This theme is introduced today:

The Jobarpar community health programme is part of Shalom: a development project the Church of Bangladesh launched in 1983 with the aim of eradicating poverty, hunger and slavery. USPG has been supporting this project for several years.

There are four main strands to the community health programme: community clinics, health awareness, hygienic latrines and an eye camp for the elderly.

Through the programme’s community health awareness activities, many people are learning about healthy nutrition, good personal hygiene and how to take preventive action on primary diseases. A door-to-door service supports pregnant women by bringing antenatal and postnatal care to them at their homes. The mothers-to-be feel comfortable and secure and newborn babies are in good care. Hypertensive and diabetic patients have also expressed their confidence in the service they have received from the programme. The availability of essential low-cost medicine has been a great help to patients.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (5 November 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

God of all things,
Help us to discern our gifts
And to use them for the common good.
Let us rejoice in the diversity of creation.

The Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro in Bologna seen from the Torre degli Asinelli (Photograph: Szs / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Collect:

Almighty and eternal God,
you have kindled the flame of love
in the hearts of the saints:
grant to us the same faith and power of love,
that, as we rejoice in their triumphs,
we may be sustained by their example and fellowship;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord of heaven,
in this eucharist you have brought us near
to an innumerable company of angels
and to the spirits of the saints made perfect:
as in this food of our earthly pilgrimage
we have shared their fellowship,
so may we come to share their joy in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

Looking across the churches and domes of Bologna from one of the city’s ‘Two Towers’ or Le due torri (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Nightnime in the streets of Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)