This panel is one of twelve in a stained-glass window depicting scenes from the Song of Solomon designed by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones. The window, located in St. Helen’s Church, Darley Dale, England, was commissioned from Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company between 1861 and 1862 by Colonel William James Gillum in memory of his great uncle, Raphael Gillum.
Burne-Jones, a partner in the firm, completed the designs in 1862. The window is arranged in three lancets of four panels each, with citations from the biblical text. Burne-Jones gives prominence to the themes of longing, seeking, and the frustration of not finding, in preference to the text’s many references to the uniting of the lovers. This panel is in the centre of the bottom row, nearest the eye level of a viewer standing directly in front of the window.
The words ‘they smote me, they wounded me’ (Song 5:7 KJV) inscribed at the bottom of this panel are more severe than what the panel actually shows. The woman is crouched low in what can be read as a defensive position, but the watchman leaning over her is not delivering any blows. He grabs her wrist with his left hand and shines in her face a lantern, which he holds with his right.
It is easy not to recognize the lantern for what it is. The visual impact of what looks like a clenched fist pointed at the woman’s face is so strong that viewers might take the scene to be more violent than it is. But the fact is, this watchman cannot beat the woman without either releasing her or putting down the lantern. Burne-Jones has thus both drawn attention to the beating as it is described in the biblical text and toned it down by making it difficult for his watchman to carry it out.
We might speculate at what point Burne-Jones captures the scene. Has the attack already happened, and now the watchman hoists his victim to her feet, inspecting the effects of his rough treatment? Or is an assault about to happen now that he has pushed her to the ground?
Black, Fiona C., and J. Cheryl Exum. 1998. ‘Semiotics in Stained Glass: Edward Burne-Jones’s Song of Songs’, in Biblical Studies/Cultural Studies: The Third Sheffield Colloquium, ed. by J. Cheryl Exum and Stephen D. Moore (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press), pp. 315–42
1I come to my garden, my sister, my bride,
I gather my myrrh with my spice,
I eat my honeycomb with my honey,
I drink my wine with my milk.
Eat, O friends, and drink:
drink deeply, O lovers!
2I slept, but my heart was awake.
Hark! my beloved is knocking.
“Open to me, my sister, my love,
my dove, my perfect one;
for my head is wet with dew,
my locks with the drops of the night.”
3I had put off my garment,
how could I put it on?
I had bathed my feet,
how could I soil them?
4My beloved put his hand to the latch,
and my heart was thrilled within me.
5I arose to open to my beloved,
and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with liquid myrrh,
upon the handles of the bolt.
6I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
7The watchmen found me,
as they went about in the city;
they beat me, they wounded me,
they took away my mantle,
those watchmen of the walls.
8I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
if you find my beloved,
that you tell him
I am sick with love.
9What is your beloved more than another beloved,
O fairest among women?
What is your beloved more than another beloved,
that you thus adjure us?
10My beloved is all radiant and ruddy,
distinguished among ten thousand.
11His head is the finest gold;
his locks are wavy,
black as a raven.
12His eyes are like doves
beside springs of water,
bathed in milk,
13His cheeks are like beds of spices,
His lips are lilies,
distilling liquid myrrh.
14His arms are rounded gold,
set with jewels.
His body is ivory work,
encrusted with sapphires.
15His legs are alabaster columns,
set upon bases of gold.
His appearance is like Lebanon,
choice as the cedars.
16His speech is most sweet,
and he is altogether desirable.
This is my beloved and this is my friend,
O daughters of Jerusalem.
6Whither has your beloved gone,
Whither has your beloved turned,
that we may seek him with you?
2My beloved has gone down to his garden,
to the beds of spices,
to pasture his flock in the gardens,
and to gather lilies.
3I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine;
he pastures his flock among the lilies.