Friday, August 31, 2012

Edward Burne-Jones - Pelican in Her Piety (1880)

This is Burne-Jones’s design for a stained-glass window the Firm made for St Martin’s church in Brampton, Cumbria. Morris thought Burne-Jones’s designs were wonderful; he admitted to the church’s patron, George Howard, that ‘the cartoons were so good that I should have been quite upset if I had not done them something like justice’. Burne-Jones was less pleased; he thought he’d been underpaid and was only half-joking when he called the scheme a ‘monument of art and ingratitude’.

In medieval Europe pelicans were thought to care so deeply for their young that they would pierce their own breasts to provide blood to drink if food was scarce. They became familiar in Christian imagery as a metaphor for Christ’s love and sacrifice on the cross. Art historian Nikolaus Pevsner described the sinuous branches supporting the pelican’s nest as a forerunner of Art Nouveau.

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