There are several paintings and sculptures relating to the English Civil War period in Manchester’s galleries and stately houses. Here are my assessments of some of them. I have listed the work alphabetically by artist. Some are contemporary to the 17th Century. Others are given to show how later artists, up to the present day look back on the Civil War period. Victorian artists were particularly fascinated with the period.
WILLIAM BLAKE – (1757-1827) PORTRAIT OF JOHN DRYDEN c. 1800-1803) Manchester Mosely Street Art Gallery. Depicted carved in stone with a ghostly ethereal air beside images of Alexander and Thais, from Dryden’s own work, Alexander At The Feast Of The Power Of Music poem. The sense is of timelessness, death and immortality in one and the same image.
WILLIAM BLAKE – (1757-1827) PORTRAIT OF JOHN MILTON c. 1800-1803) Manchester Mosely Street Art Gallery. Milton, blind and carved in stone, with a laurel crown and set in a rather watery looking environment, which gives a sense that his spirit will never erode. The serpent that swims round him with an apple in its jaws is that of his own Paradise Lost poem.
FORD MADDOX-BROWN (1821-1893) mural, BRADSHAW’S DEFENCE OF MANCHESTER 1642. Manchester Town Hall. One of a dozen Pre-Raphaelite mural tapestries depicting scenes from Manchester’s history adorning the main banqueting hall at Manchester’s Town Hall. The work as a whole (all twelve murals) took from 1879 to 1893 to complete). The romantic over-dramatised picture of Bradshaw’s Defence makes the events look much more exciting than they was. Bradshaw, as a lone Musket firing marksman, seems to hold an entire Royalist division at bay on Salford Bridge. A horse has fallen, and men try to rescue its rider or shelter from the gunfire Bradshaw unleashes. As colourful and spectacular as this is, it is inaccurate in many respects. Bradshaw was mainly in charge of defending Deansgate. The defence of the bridge was in the hands of a German engineer, Johan Rosworm. Also, given the slow loading required for a musket, one man alone would not have held so many Royalists held at bay.
For the actual events of the Siege see my page (ENGLISH) CIVIL WAR IN MANCHESTER
FORD MADDOX-BROWN (1821-1893) – CROMWELL, PROTECTOR OF THE VAUDOIS. Oil On Canvas. Manchester City Art Gallery. Mosely Street. Cromwell as Lord Protector, protesting against the a massacre of Swiss protestants in Europe. He is dictating a letter to The Duke Of Savoy. The writer is Andrew Marvell, the poet, who served as Cromwell’s joint Secretary. The third man present as an advisor is also a famous poet, the blind John Milton, Latin Secretary to the Protector. The Victorians regarded Cromwell as a champion of s champion of democracy at a time when much of Europe was in turmoil. Cromwell sits in the sash of office, and full battle armour even in a time of peace in his own kingdom. The focus of the painting has both Cromwell and Marvell looking in awe and admiration at Milton as he makes suggestions for the wording of the statement Cromwell is drafting. Maps spread on the table, and the fatigue in the men’s expressions shows that this minor event in Cromwell’s life is being given a great deal of serious attention. There is considerable realism here, though Cromwell’s armour is anachronistic at this point in time. He would not have worn it for a political briefing.
FERGUSON, WILLIAM (1632-95) STILL LIFE WITH DEAD PIGEON, FINCHES & FALCON HOODS. Dark image of dead birds and the instruments of their capture, the spoils of sport and the mastery of man over nature. Disturbing in its decadence and sombre satisfaction with morbidity.
NOBLE, MATTHEW– OLIVER CROMWELL STATUE – WYTHENSHAW PARK. The controversial Bronze on granite statue of Oliver Cromwell, first unveiled on 1st December 1875. The Lord Protector stands directly facing Wythenshawe Hall, which his forces brutally captured in 1643. The Statue was produced in the late Victorian period and originally stood in Manchester City Centre, before being moved to the Park in the 1980’s. The statue has given offence to many descendants of the Royalists hurt, or killed by the Civil War, and especially to the many Irish people in Manchester who have learned of Cromwell’s role in the massacre at Drogheda in 1649. The statue is impressive, with Cromwell depicted in full ‘Warts And All’ glory, with surprisingly big feet overhanging the large rock shaped plinth on which he stands. It is a three dimensional reworking of Lely’s famous portrait of Cromwell.
. Elizabeth Salisbury Heywood, whose family had been involved in the Civil War on the Parliament side, bequeathed it to the city. Until the 1980’s it stood on the corner of Cateaton Street and Deansgate, close to the Cathedral. Deansgate’s role in the Siege Of Manchester influenced the decision to put the statue there, though of course Cromwell was not involved in the siege in any way. It cost £1,600 to produce. It was never popular. Many Royalists saw it as a Parliamentary statement of contempt against Queen Victoria. She had herself refused to personally open the then new Manchester Town Hall unless the statue was removed. Its own Lord Mayor therefore opened the Town Hall instead. The statue is still regarded by many as an insult to the many migrant settlers to Manchester, especially the large Irish population, given the massacres Cromwell perpetrated in Drogheda and Wexford during his brutal occupation of Ireland in 1650. It has its supporters. Members of the Jewish communities still sometimes lay flowers at its base, as Cromwell had been supportive and influential of the wishes of the Jews to be allowed back into England. They had been driven to exile by the Normans and only returned towards the end of the Protectorate.
The reason for moving Cromwell to Wythenshawe was simply pragmatic. He was proving to be a traffic hazard, as the road had to veer around the statue and slowed the cars down. The Hall seems a more fitting location for Cromwell’s statue, as it had been a billeting camp for Parliamentary troops from its capture and onwards throughout hostilities; the statue is now in a very sorry state. Its sword. (Visible in pictures from its days on Deansgate) has been broken off and stolen, and the Lord Protector has no protection from graffiti spray and bird droppings.
JOHN PETTIE c.1822 – THE DUKE OF MONMOUTH’S INTERVIEW WITH JAMES 2cd. Oil On Canvas. Manchester Mosely Street Art Gallery. Captured, having been found hiding in a ditch, after his doomed attempt to seize the English throne by force, Monmouth grovels before his King, and natural uncle, James 2cd, begging for his life. The King looks down in abject contempt on his nephew. The meeting takes place in a furniture free room. Monmouth is on the floor with his hands tied behind his back. He seems to be trying to kiss the King’s feet, but James has stepped back and shows no pity or mercy, merely his revulsion. The painting depicts Monmouth as a desperate unwilling martyr, while the King is seen as heartless and unemotional. Days after the meeting, he would sign Monmouth’s death warrant. The painting captures a human drama with a dark ominous tone in James’s funeral judgemental black clothes and Monmouth’s shroud like garb. The painting is based on lines in MacCauley’s ‘A History Of England’. “To see him and not spare him was an outrage on humanity and decency. This outrage the King was resolved to commit.”
JAN ALBERTSZ ROTIUS (1624-66) PORTRAIT OF A BOY WITH A DOG – 1660. Oil on Canvas Manchester City Art Gallery Mosely Street.
Long mistaken for a portrait of a girl, it is actually a boy aged just one year old, though he looks about three. As the gallery notes point out, all children in the mid-17th century wore dresses, but boys were transferred into breeches as puberty and adolescence approached.
The loyal, friendly, dog, a King Charles Spaniel is large compared to the child. The boy holds a rattle, a rinkebel, as such devises were known, which were intended as much to ward off evil spirits as to serve as a toy. The Rinkebel is wrapped round the boy and he keeps a firm grip on it. The dog affords additional protection, hinting that the parents were over-protective and affectionate.
The portrait was badly reframed in the 18th century, being placed in a frame bearing the coat of arms of the house of Orange, though the painting itself comes from the earlier Stuart period.
UNKNOWN ARTIST – (Follower of the Robert Walker School) OLIVER CROMWELL (1599-1658) BOLTON ART GALLERY. Rather over handsome portrait of Cromwell in English Country gentlemen garb, and bearing a gentle smile. This is no warts and all portrayal, but a very exaggerated one.
UNKNOWN ARTIST - WYTHENSHAW HALL – The magnificent Hall contains several paintings from the 17th Century celebrating the Cavalier pastimes of riding and fox-hunting, as well as falconry. There is a photo of a re-enactment event that took place at the Hall in 1928, forty years before The Sealed Knot invented Civil War Re-enactment as a new art form and approach to history in its own right. The dining Room features a lavish fireplace commemorating the Civil War with swords and armour from the period. The main stairway has a portrait, which is believed to be of Sir Robert Tatton, the Royalist grim, taciturn, unsmiling owner and chief defender of the Hall and estate. There is also a portrait of Charles Worsely, of Platt Hall, A Major General under Cromwell, and MP from 1654.
WARD, EDWARD MATTHEW (1816-1879). THE EXECUTION OF THE MARQUIS OF MONTROSE. Salford City Victoria & Albert Art Gallery. With the companion painting on the Last Sleep Of The Earl Of Argyll (see below), this painting was originally commissioned forte House of Lords, but the frames were too big for the display space offered. The Scots were expected to vilify Montrose, as he was brought to the scaffold as he had changed allegiances from the Covenanters to the Royalist cause in the course of the Civil war, but they pitied and sympathised with him instead. Here, they offer whispered words of comfort. Someone brings him a cushion to give him a final gesture of comfort. A Halberd bearer glares menacingly at the crowd to ward off any last minute rescue attempts. Montrose looks cavalier and debonair, but tired and weary in a very realistic portrait. That the picture was a companion to one of Argyll, a descendant of Montrose’s Mortal enemies, The Campbells, is truly remarkable.
WARD, EDWARD MATTHEW (1816-1879). THE LAST SLEEP OF THE EARL OF ARGYLL. Salford City Victoria & Albert Art Gallery. The 9th Earl Of Argyll was executed in 1685 for his opposition to the Catholicism of James 2cd. He had faced such danger before. He had been charged with High Treason with his father, Lord Lorne, the 7th Earl of Argyll, (Montrose’s greatest enemy). While the 7th Earl was executed shortly after the Restoration, the 8th Earl had been spared. He was later charged again with treason for his flat refusal to sign up to the Test act. He fled to Holland (escaping prison dressed in women’s clothes) to escape trial, but later returned to participate in the Monmouth Rebellion. Captured, he finally faced execution. . The painting shows his last hours of rest. He has eaten is last meal, and read the papers and now sleeps contentedly, utterly untroubled by his pending painful doom. A Royalist figure in bright red looks on, more troubled and distressed than the dammed man himself. This could well be the King.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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