Sir Edward Burne-Jones designed the stained glass windows Hope, Charity and Faith for the St. Martin's Church in Brampton, Cumbria (UK). William Morris' workshop manufactured his designs for the architect Philip Webb's unique Pre-Raphaelite church built in 1889. The South Aisle of the church's easternmost window featuring of the three theological virtues of Hope, Charity and Faith.

The center panel depicts the virtue, Charity, personified as a woman wearing a flowing white dress and pink fabric. The dress bunches beneath her breasts and the pink drapery clings to her upper thighs, accentuating her curvaceous and sensual body. Charity's facial expression is neutral, with only a few lines of detail delineating her eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth and chin. The bold dark line of Charity's jaw line draws the viewer's attention to the tilt of her head. The large tilt of her head makes her appear intensely curious as she looks down to her right hand. Her right arm draws in close to her body with her right palm holding a yellow flaming fire. Her left arm stretches across her stomach to support a baby who sits with his back to the viewer. Two slightly bigger babies stand next to Charity, gripping onto her right knee as if for support and protection. Charity's loosely curled blond hair reaches to her knees, mimicking and escalating the motion of the flame. Charity's flowing blond hair, head tilt closely and flowing drapery is very reminiscent of Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus . A bright red halo sits behind Charity's head and behind Charity, Burne-Jones designs a very decorative swirling pattern in rich shades of red.

The panel on the left features Hope . Similar to Charity, a beautiful female with flowing drapery and curly blond hair personifies this theological virtue. Hope wears a bright blue dress that clinches tightly to her legs are arms as if a strong breeze blew from the right. She stands on the tips of her toes to reach high towards the bright blue swirls at the top of the panel. Hope's thin neck escapes from the billowing ruffles to hold her head at a drastic 90-degree angle. The line of her jaw bone emphasizes her intent gaze towards the sky. Her left arm reaches into the schematic curves of blue possibly represent a current of wind, water or clouds. Her right arm rests at her side, indifferently positioning a branch of palm on her right shoulder. Similar to Charity, a red halo dresses the back of Hope's head. A dark blue circular pattern occupies the background of the panel.

The right panel of the window features a personified female figure of third theological virtue, Faith. She wears a loose red dress that bunches together at a high waistline tie. A while cloth cloak holds the brown hair of Faith, hiding her brown hair from the viewer. The nape of her neck is sunken in as if she strains her neck to turn her head to the right. She appears to look over her shoulder with wide-eyed concern. She pinches a small flame in her right hand while her left arm falls comfortably to her side. Like the other two virtues, Faith is ordained with a red halo. The background behind Faith's head illustrates a decorative dark blue and black backdrop. Faith's small flame does not illuminate the background like Charity's flamboyant blaze in the center window.

Throughout time, artists and writers (from Raphael to Dante) have personified the three theological virtues as significant religious symbols. The Bible defines the importance of these three theological virtues in when St. Paul firmly states:

7   Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8   Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

9   For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10   But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

11   When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12   For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

13   And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Faith, hope and charity reside in the human spirit as supernatural elements only to be created by and bestowed upon humanity by God. [1 Corinthians 13 (KJV)]

At a young age, Burne-Jones intended to enter the clergy and, although he never pursued this, "he transmuted his religious ideals into artistic ones. Beauty was his goddess, and he was her disciple. Beauty was synonymous with truth and goodness" (Wood p. 112). Burne-Jones reconciles his unwavering religiosity and burning obsession with beauty. His stunning personifications of Hope, Charity and Faith bring to life a lot more then just religious symbolism. Burne-Jones defines a picture as "a beautiful romantic dream of something that never was, never will be -- in light better than any light that ever shone -- in a land no-one can define, or remember, only desire." (Wood pg. 119) Burne-Jones depicts his ideal picture when he designs Hope, Charity and Faith as supernatural beauties of a transcendental world.

Questions

1. The female figures of Hope, Charity and Faith resonate many compositional similarities to female figures in Burne-Jones oil paintings such as The Beguiling of Merlin and The Mirror of Venus . The subjects of these two oil paintings, an episode from a French medieval romance and an imaginary pseudo-classical scene, respectably, feature women standing in contraposto wearing clinging drapery identical to the religious figures Faith, Charity and Hope . Burne-Jones' female figures rely heavily on their desirability and attractiveness to evince their integrity and status. Does Burne-Jones believe that this sensuous figure dressed in sweeping wrinkles of fabric to be appropriate for depicting women in religious, secular and classical contexts?

2. Early in Burne-Jones' artistic career, he studied under Dante Gabriel Rossetti for about two years. The bold facial lines and the division of space in Rossetti's drawing and oil painting Regina Cordium closely resemble Burne-Jones' Hope, Charity and Faith. These female figures' pronounced jaw lines and bold eyes highlight stillness of emotion and gaze as significant components of their personas. In addition, the schematic backgrounds of these works evoke flatness and ornamentation. Both of these works are stripped of place and time, leaving the viewer no choice but to closely study the women at hand. Does the medium of stained glass work well to convey PRB stylistic techniques or are the similarities between Regina Cordium and Hope, Charity and Faith merely coincidental?

3. Do the accoutrements of flames, children and the branch of palm accompanying these women symbolize anything or suggest any religious or secular connections? The flames especially appear to be unique props not used by Burne-Jones in any of his works. Why make the flames so prominent in these depictions?


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Last modified 29 October 2004