📸 Edward Burne-Jones, The Nativity, design for stained glass (1872)
Happy Christmas from the William Morris Gallery!
This watercolour composition by Edward Burne-Jones is one of four designs for stained glass windows executed by Morris & Co. in 1872. They were made for the 18th century chapel at Castle Howard, North Yorkshire, and depict the Christian story of the birth of Jesus: ‘The Annunciation’, ‘The Nativity’, ‘Adoration of the Magi’, and ‘The Flight into Egypt’. The Morrises were good friends with the then Earl and Countess of Carlisle, George and Rosalind Howard, and would often exchange letters and pay visits. The Howards extensively modernised the interiors of their stately home with Morris & Co. designs during the late 19th century, notably redecorating the chapel and perhaps controversially covering a wall of Pellegrini frescoes with ‘Bird and Anemone’ wallpaper . Much of this was later removed, but the Arts and Crafts additions to the chapel, including these windows, remain to be seen today, a testament to their friendship.
Here, we see ‘The Nativity’ or scene of the birth of Christ, with Mary and Joseph gathered around the child, watched over by a host of angels. The bold, linear style is somewhat different to the lush, delicately painted masterpieces Burne-Jones became known for, and relates directly to the final product. We can see the artist beginning to imagine how the glass will fit together, which elements will be leaded and which details will be hand painted. This image would then have been worked up into a full-size cartoon before being transferred to glass. A window using this same design was reproduced by Morris & Co. in the early 20th century, and can be seen in the Epiphany Chapel at Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire.