Photo: Frederic Griffiths Photography by Edward Burne-Jones

Edward Burne-Jones

Scene from The Song of Songs , 1862, Stained glass, St Helen's Church, Darley Dale, UK, Photo: Frederic Griffiths Photography

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A Woman Attacked

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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?

 

References

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


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