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, completed by 1896

Jacob’s Dream of a ladder reaching from heaven to earth is a pivotal moment in the narrative of the Old Testament, and allows many interpretations. Here it is shown in a row of mosaics dedicated to Old Testament descriptions of sacred spaces. Jacob’s ladder opens this series, and is followed by Moses who received the tablets of the Ten Commandments as tangible evidence of God’s will. The series is then concluded by images of the kings and builders of the First Temple. The ladder in Jacob’s dream has become a veritable staircase to heaven in Richmond’s interpretation, and as could be understood as a vision of the real structures that would follow.

Brief description: Jacob depicted seated, barefoot and slightly slumped over in sleep: his hands nestling in one another and his eyes closed; next to him a bush with star-like flowers; in the background a wide golden staircase amid swirls of clouds in blues, red and gold; an angel in hues of gold and yellow walking down the staircase with his right hand raised and a flower in his left; in front of him the back of an ascending angel, the feet of another angel in descent visible behind the central angel; at the base of the mosaic an ornamental band with golden ground depicting a vase at its centre and a blue, as well as a red bird on either side.

Related quotes:

Genesis 28:12-13: “Jacob left Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place, and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants” (NRSV)

Browne 1896, p. 15: “The figures in the spaces on the sides of the clerestory windows on the south represent the builders and decorators of the Temple and the Tabernacle, and the earliest visions of a house or tabernacle of God. […] Passing to the western bay, still on the south side, the figure on the east of the window is Moses receiving the Law; and on the west is Jacob’s vision. The inscription below [destroyed during the Second World War] is O Adonai et Dux domus Israel veni ad redimendum nos, ‘O Lord and Leader of the house of Israel, come to redeem us.’”

Related work elsewhere: Jacob’s Ladder, mosaic, 12th century AD, Monreale Cathedral, Italy; Jacob’s Ladder, mosaic, 12th century AD, Palatine Chapel, Palermo, Italy

Literature and references: Browne 1896, p. 15; Zech 2015, p. 36

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