Mosaics in the quire

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Mosaics in the quire

This is the largest group of mosaics in St Paul’s Cathedral. It is breathtaking in its ambition as well as its visual impact. There are more than seventy individual, figurative mosaic panels in this area, accompanied by spandrels and ceiling decoration of purely ornamental mosaic work. The artistic mastermind behind these mosaics was the British painter William Blake Richmond (1842-1921).

Richmond was the son of the painter George Richmond and was named after his father's close friend, the poet, William Blake. He studied painting in England and Italy from an early age and became a successful portrait painter. He  pursued an interest in large-scale allegorical works and produced designs for stained glass and mosaic work.    

In 1882, nine years before he began work at St Paul's, William Blake Richmond gave a lecture on monumental painting  in which he criticised the state of decoration in many British churches at the time:

“Hence for the most part our churches are caves of white-washed sepulchres, uncoloured, or if coloured at all, only in parts, patchily, and with little general idea of design.” (Richmond, 1882, pp. 30-31)

With this statement in mind it is not surprising that Richmond produced designs for daring, colourful mosaics to fill the quire and apse of St Paul’s. The commission was an extraordinary opportunity to put his theories in to practice, and the mosaics were only one aspect of his vision: he created a fundamental transformation of the quire with patterns painted onto the existing architectural ornaments and stained-glass windows, populated with angels, which were sadly lost in the second world war.

Several factors came together to provide Richmond with a license to radically alter the fabric of the cathedral. A movement within the Church of England towards greater use of ornament and more elaborate ceremonial; the leadership of the formidable Dean Gregory; the enthusiasm of Canon Liddon and the removal of the quire screen so that the whole of the cathedral could be used for services.    

The scheme was produced by British workmen, using material produced in Britain, by Messrs Powell of Whitefriars. The so-called direct method used for most of them was entirely different from the prefabricated mosaics applied for the mosaics in the dome. Richmond wanted to reconstruct the methods used by mosaicists working on Byzantine churches, such as the famous churches in Ravenna: therefore Richmond’s mosaics were, on the whole, set using the direct method that is by mosaicists working on scaffoldings and platforms installed in the Cathedral for this purpose. Controversially, the walls of Christopher Wren’s building were cut back to ensure that the finished mosaics were level with the original surface.

Thanks to the first guide to Richmond’s scheme, which was published in 1896 (before the entire scheme was executed) the names of the workmen are known (Browne, 1896, p. 23). Richmond is described as workman rather than designer or artist, thus proclaiming a hands-on approach to the realisation of his vision.

Master Workman

W. B. Richmond, R. A.

Studio Assistants

T. J. Gaul         G. Meo

Messrs Powell’s Staff

General Superintendent James C. Powell

Glass Maker    Harry Powell

Mosaic Workers

R. Gregory                  T. Josey                       J. Carley

F. Oates                       J.W. Williams              E. Afford

C. Porter                      R. Reaves                    E. Glen

M. Josey                      J. Cooper                     J. Sapstead

H. Inskip                     W. Webb                     T. Long

W. Anstead                 W. Butcher                  F. W. Davies

W. L. James


The Mosaics of the Quire Scheme

The mosaics were created in just over ten years, with the mosaics in the quarter-domes of the crossing among the last to be set. In terms of iconography the cycle starts with the Creation of the Firmament (Genesis 1). Three creation scenes are given the saucer-domes: the Creation of the Beasts, the Fish and the Birds. The smaller panels set into the walls of the entablature explore these themes further and in a more ornamental fashion. The Fall of Man and the Expulsion from Paradise continue the Old Testament narratives, and are juxtaposed to the Annunciation.

Some of these scenes were only completed after the first guide to the cycle was published and the mosaics revealed to the public in 1896. The Passion of Christ is only alluded to through the Angels with the Instruments of the Passion who are depicted on the arches closest to the Apse. There, the Risen Christ in Glory resides among the Recording Angels. That this scene refers to the Revelation of St John is also evident in the two unusual depictions of a passage in this book: And the Sea Gave Up the Dead.

Above the narrative scenes of the arches, the clerestory offered twelve spaces in total which Richmond dedicated to biblical figures. According to the first guidebook (Browne, 1896, p. 13) the “spaces on the north sides of the Choir represent the ancient world looking dimly forward into the future, with no limitation to Old Testament revelation. […] The figures in the spaces at the sides of the clerestory windows on the south represent the builders and decorators of the Temple and the Tabernacle, and the earliest visions of a house or tabernacle of God.”

The mosaics in both aisles and the four scenes depicted in the quarter-domes under the crossing were among the last to be completed. The date 1904 can be found in cartouches next to several of these depictions. 

The Mosaics of the American Memorial Chapel (Apse)

Recording Angels: 7798 The Risen Christ: 8466 Recording Angels:7797
Charity: 8471 Truth: 8472 Fortitude: 8470
Chastity: 8473 The Sea Giving up the Dead: 7452 The Sea Giving up the Dead: 4914
Hope: 8469 Justice: 8474 Melchisedech & Abraham: 8670
The Sacrifice of Noah: 8668    


Saucer-Domes and Pendentives

Angel Pendentive: 6101 Angel Pendentive: 6102 Angel Pendentive: 6103
Angel Pendentive: 8553 Angel Pendentive: 8554 Angel Pendentive: 9200
Angel Pendentive: 9308 Angel Pendentive: 9303 Angel Pendentive: 9310
Angel Pendentive: 9311    
Creation of the Birds: 8475 Creation of the Fish: 8476 Creation of the Beasts: 8477


North Arches

Angel of the Passion: 7794 Angel of the Passion: 6431 Angel of the Annunciation: 6014
Creation of the Firmament: 8556    


South Arches

Angel of the Passion: 8565 Angel of the Passion: 7793 The Temptation:6392
The Expulsion: 8644    


North Clerestory

The Delpic Sibyl: 8679 The Persian Sibyl: 8676 Alexander the Great: 8680
Cyrus King of Babylon: 8681 Abraham: 8682 Job: 8683


South Clerestory

David: 8462 Solomon: 7552 Aholiab: 8671
Bezaleel: 8673 Moses: 8674 Jacob: 8675



Peacocks: 8566 Fishes: 7212 Ibex, lionesses and goats: 8484 Adam naming the Beasts: 9198
Peacocks: 8459 Fishes: 6003 Ibex, lionesses and goats: 8555 Eve among the Beasts: 9199


The Minor Canons’ Aisle

Orpheus and his Lyre: 8463 Angels with Wheat Sheaves: 7796 Angels with Trumpets: 7801
Angels with Boats: 7800 Christ with Wheat Sheaves: 8467  


The Dean’s Aisle

Demeter and the Vines: 7806 Angels with Staves: 7805 Angels with Violins: 7804
Angels with Ramparts: 7803 Christ the Good Shepherd: 7802  



The Resurrection: 9518 The Ascension: 8552
The Crucifixion: 8461 The Entombment: 6098