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Lions, Tigers and 19th Century 'Twitter Trolls': St Paul's mosaics feature in book launch

New light shed on the Cathedral's mosaics

Mosaics of St Paul's Cathedral celebrates all the mosaic imagery in the Cathedral.

This ranges from mosaics created by female prisoners in the crypt; the dome and William Blake Richmond's designs in the quire and quarter domes, and the figure of Christ in Judgement high in the apse; and those tucked away in St Dunstan's Chapel. 

Author of the new book, art historian Dr Heike Zech, said: 'These mosaics are one of the most ambitious cycles of Victorian mosaics in Britain. This project allowed me to look at every mosaic in detail: their thought-through and witty composition, and specific role in the overall scheme. They are a testimony to faith, and different views on how St Paul’s should be decorated in the nineteenth century.'

A debate about decoration

Once the Cathedral was declared complete on Christmas Day 1711, a debate began on potential decoration, with arguments between those in favour of keeping the space austere, and others who sought colour. Artist Sir Joshua Reynolds suggested hanging canvases. Once Queen Victoria had famously lamented that St Paul's was 'dull, cold, dreary and dingy', some of the giants of Victorian art including Frederick Leighton and Edward Poynter were called on and volunteered suggestions.

Dr Zech said: 'I was particularly struck by William Blake Richmond’s vision of religious reconciliation and tolerance; as well as the visual references to other religions, ancient and current. I also utterly sympathise with his enormous struggle to complete the work once it had become the target not only of a debate among artists and critics, but also of the late nineteenth-century equivalent of a twitter troll campaign.'

The book's images by photographer Andy Johnson were challenging to produce because of the location of some of the mosaics. Now these images allow them to be seen close-up and well-lit as never before.

Tigers, tabby cats, and Adam and Eve

Dr Zech said: 'Some of the detail is virtually impossible to see in the Cathedral, even with binoculars. Who would expect to find kangaroos alongside tigers and lions, and even four tabby cats alongside representations of biblical figures, among them of course Adam and Eve, if only you know where to look?'

'In that respect, the new photography has been a revelation. Before this project a visit was the only way to see the mosaics properly. Now everyone can choose how to see the enticing works of art, be it in the cathedral, by reading the new guide or online. For me, this project has been utterly inspiring.'

The new book will be launched at St Paul's on 12 November. It features forewords by the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, the Very Revd Dr David Ison, and donor Li Li Chung, and an introduction by Dr Zech.

Mosaics of St Paul's Cathedral is available at the Cathedral shop.

Learn about the wider context of St Paul’s mosaic scheme in a free study day: Mosaics and Ecclesiastical Glories in Gold and Glass.

Speakers and topics include:

Simon Carter, Head of Collections at St Paul’s Cathedral – ‘Mosaics in a Collections context’

Dr Heike Zech, Curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum – ‘The William Blake Richmond Mosaic Cycle in St Paul’s Cathedral’

Dr Ayla Lepine, Art and Architectural Historian – ‘Stylistic Revivals in Nineteenth Century Church Interiors’

Tessa Hunkin, Practising Mosaicist – ‘Bringing the bling: Westminster Cathedral mosaics past and present’

David Toothill, Artistic Director at Southbank Mosaics – ‘Contemporary Mosaic Commissions & Social Engagement’

 The study day will also feature the premiere of a short film:  “The Making of the Queenhithe Mosaic”

 Book a free place on the study day Friday 13 November 10.30am – 4pm

at the Western Theatre, Museum of London, 150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN

Register for free tickets

Inquiries to scarter@stpaulscathedral.org.uk

This event is part of the St Paul’s Cathedral Mosaics Project.

The Cathedral’s Collections contain many important objects and art works. These help to record and retell the remarkable life and work of St Paul’s.

Material including architectural models, painted designs and archives helps understand decoration added to the architecture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries which caused considerable controversy.

The St Paul’s Mosaic project used this material to research and produce:

  • a new guide book
  • an online catalogue
  • a special exhibition, and
  • a study day

The project was funded by a single generous donor, Li Li Chung, and the Weavers Company. It involves partnerships with South Bank Mosaics School, and Scala.