A Dash of Art History

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Evelyn de Morgan’s paintings usually indicate their blatant symbolism by their (subtly or unsubtly) implausible settings.

In The Crown of Glory, though—which de Morgan painted in 1896—the scene, though obviously invented, doesn’t have the same immediate feeling of impossibility.

Certainly it isn’t a precise depiction of the classical world: de Morgan has no interest in the careful historicity of Alma-Tadema. The fish at the edge of the tapestry or fresco behind her evoke both her husband’s ceramic tiles and the ancient Roman motifs that inspired him. The little telamon and caryatid that support the bookshelf again suggest the classical world, while the raised-cord-bound books on them are clearly of more modern origin. The three-legged table with its climbing snakes, and the subject’s own draped and gathered garments, both straddle that same line between a modern and a classical aesthetic. For the most part, though, the work looks at least internally consistent.

But perhaps the most important element—the large image towards which the subject looks as she casts off her ornaments—is a total break from even the fairly modernized Greco-Roman style of the rest of the scene.

After all, it is practically a copy of one of Giotto’s 14th-century frescoes for the Lower Basilica in Assisi, which (as Christie’s points out), de Morgan “may well have seen…on one of her numerous visits to Italy, or she may have known the design in reproduction, possibly the engraving in William Young Ottley’s Florentine School (1826) which her mentor Burne-Jones had copied in an early sketchbook (Victoria and Albert Museum).”

The result is to produce a sort of dissonance between the ornate, finely wrought Greco-Roman objects in the rest of the scene, and the incredibly simplified—even flattened—Medieval depiction of Saint Francis’ allegorical marriage to Lady Poverty.

Which is, of course, the visual equivalent of the spiritual dissonance which is suddenly brought to the attention of the painting’s subject.

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No, seriously.

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Whatever you'd like.