The Expulsion of the Danes from Manchester. Completed 1881. Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893). Gambier Parry method (see Introduction to the Manchester Murals). Downloaded and reproduced here from "Ford Madox Brown Murals" by kind permission of Manchester City Council. Commentary and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. [Click on the image for a larger picture.]

This is the third in the sequence of the Manchester Town Hall murals. It was also the third to have been completed. According to one critic, this was among the "[s]afer themes" substituted for Brown's originally more "politically sensitive" suggestions, such as depictions of the Peterloo Massacre and the Cotton Famine (see Lambourne 58; Brown would certainly have liked to include the latter as well as the former — see Ford 184). But the general subject of the Danes was there in the original list quoted by Brown's grandson, Ford Madox Ford, in his biography of the artist: "3. The Danes take the town after an obstinate fight" (331). His angle on the subject did change, though, because in the end he only showed the Danes threatening to return after being routed.

This then is a scene of confusion and mayhem, all the more so because of the involvement not only of Saxon soldiers, but of townsfolk as well. Brown himself explains that:

Rushing down the narrow and winding street of a small wood-built city, the Danes are seen making for an open gateway that discloses the country outside, with a Saxon church on a hill.

The Norsemen or Vikings who organised the plundering expeditions that at this time so much harassed Europe used to begin their apprenticeship to rapine very early. Fifteen is said to have been about the age when they would start off in quest of adventure, and of that booty on which, a few years later, they would settle down upon as respectable married men and heads of houses.

The Danes are here represented, therefore, as very young men, mere beardless boys in fact, with one or two better seasoned elders to assist them with their experience.

The wealth which they acquired they were wont to convert into gold bracelets, which were worn on the right arm.

A rich and successful young chieftain, the wearer of many bracelets, but now badly wounded, is being borne past on a hastily constructed stretcher, his companions endeavouring to protect him and themselves with their uplifted shields as they run the gauntlet of the townsfolks' missiles. In front of these four men have fallen confusedly, one over another, on the ground. The pavement consists of the polygonal blocks that the Romans had formed their road of which ran through Manchester.

From a house which faces this scene a young woman has thrown a tile that strikes down the "Raven" standard-bearer. An aged inmate from the same window throws a spear, the national Saxon weapon, while two little boys gleefully empty a small tub of boiling water on the fugitives.

The Danes, who in a group have reached the shelter of the rampart gate, pause for one moment to hurl back threats of future revenge on the inimical townspeople, whose chained-up dogs bark fiercely at the runaways, while in the background the soldiers of Edward the Elder are seen smiting the unfortunate loiterers in the race for life. (348-49)

Despite its gruesome nature, with the stretcher-party coming in from the left, an engagingly humorous note is still evident here: a piglet from the burning sty in the left foreground is getting squashed in the middle of the fray. Brown's problems with the protesting model are on record (see Ford 347 and Treuherz 53), but they were worth it. Kenneth Bendiner suggests that such touches are not moralising, and not really Hogarthian, but simply make us "more open and amiable" to our stumbling fellows (44). Note that the chainmailed Dane on the right still brandishes his broken weapon as he and his fellows are routed: they will return, and, as Brown says, eventually settle down "as respectable married men and heads of houses" (348).

Related Material

References

Bendiner, Kenneth. "Ford Madox Brown's Humour." Ford Madox Brown: Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer, by Julian Treuherz with contributions by Kenneth Bendiner and Angela Thirlwell. London: Philip Wilson, 2011. 37-45. Print

Ford, Ford Madox. Ford Madox Brown: A Record of His Life and Work. London: Longmans, 1896. Internet Archive. Web. 23 April 2012.

Lambourne, Lionel. Victorian Painting. London: Phaidon, 1999. Print.

Treuherz, Julian, with contributions by Kenneth Bendiner and Angela Thirlwell. Ford Madox Brown: Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer. London: Philip Wilson, 2011. Print


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Last modified 23 April 2012