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Angel of the Passion Holding a Cup

William Blake Richmond1891/1904

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

Opaque glass mosaic, designed by William Blake Richmond, executed by Messrs Powell of Whitefriars

From the fourth century AD the Instruments of Passion were shown on their own. Also referred to as the arma Christi (Latin: weapons of Christ), they are a group of objects used during the Passion of Christ as described in the Gospel, among them the Veil of Veronica, the Crown of Thorns, the cross itself as well as the nails, sponge and lance. As symbols of the Passion, at times presented by angels in a similar way to Richmond’s designs, they remained popular themes from the Late Gothic onwards. They are nonetheless a highly unusual theme in monumental church decoration in the nineteenth-century. Both north and south arch of the east bay of the quire are dedicated to this subject matter, while none of the Stations of the Cross is depicted as part of the Richmond cycle: the symbolic allusion to the Passion replaces its explicit visual representation of the brutality of the crucifixion in the quire; Christ is not shown in agony here. The text at the centre of the panel is also a celebration of Christ, they are the words used by the angels to announce the birth of Christ to the shepherds. (Richmond did eventually design a mosaic dedicated to the Crucifixion, mosaic no. 8461. The highly stylised work is part of the four pictures created for the central dome in the early 20th century.)

The depiction of the Angels of the Passion on this mosaic is noticeably different in style and execution to its earlier pendant on the north side of the quire nave (nos 6431, 7794): less colours are used and the design plays to the strength of a mosaics: bold clear lines and colour contrasts prevail.

Brief description of the entire mosaic panel (nos 8565 and 7793): mosaic spanning the wall space between arches and clerestory with two distinct spandrel areas, the central part depicting the disk of the sun and rays surrounded by a rainbow and inscribed “VIGILATE ET ORATE VT NON INTRATE IN TENTATIONEM” (‘Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation’, Matthew 26:41); on either side of the arch an angel as young male in greenish armour with orange-red wings and halos around their heads, seated on illusionist marble architecture, the angel on the left holding the pillar against which Christ was bound in the Flagellation, the angel on the right in similar armour holding up a cup-like shape, traditionally described as a thorn from the Crown of Thorns, but equally likely a cup as symbol of Christ's suffering (a motif known since medieval times); the background a dark blue sky with eighteen stars

Related quotes:

Browne 1896, p. 10 (poss. reflecting progress of work in 1894 when the report was first compiled): The spandrels on the south side will carry two Angels with other instruments of the Passion. […]”

Literature and references: Browne, 1896, p. 10; Schiller 1972, pp. 189-197

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  • Title: Angel of the Passion Holding a Cup
  • Creator: Sir William Blake Richmond
  • Date Created: 1891/1904
  • Location: St Paul's Cathedral Quire


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