It is fascinating to think that, from the Renaissance well into the late nineteenth century, there was a definite ‘language’ to pictures. The presence of animals, domestic objects, flowers and so on would carry powerful implications about the meaning of a picture, as would even the positioning of a scene. Naturally therefore colours had significance too.
It is unsurprising to think that Margaret Rope, who clearly revelled as an artist in how colouring could be used, would have been aware that certain colours would carry clear inferences for the viewer.
Roger Hall, who is the one of the authorities on how she designed her windows, gave us this example.
Margaret Rope could use colours to convey her meaning.
Consider the apparently simple scene in the tracery area of a window in the ‘redundant’ Our Lady Of The Assumption church in Latchford (Warrington) in Cheshire.
The main window illustrates the stories of the two Catholic martyrs St John Fisher and St Thomas More, both beheaded in 1535 during the reign of King Henry VIII because they refused to accept that he, and not the Pope, was supreme head of the Church in England.
In this same set of windows in a tiny trefoil light, we also see St Peter (pic, above), the first leader of the Church, standing on the steps of the imperial palace in Rome; he is dressed in the simple tunic and wooden sandals of an apostle, but is displaying the keys of heaven (Matthew 16:19), symbols of the powers which Catholic Christians believe were given to Peter by Christ himself and handed on to his successors, the Popes.
Now look at the colours….
The yellow and white of Peter’s tunic are in fact the same colours of those of the Papacy.
His outer garment is red, signifying that he is ready to shed his blood for Christ.
Beneath and behind his feet is a cloth of purple, the colour worn by the Roman Emperor. To stand on top of the imperial purple is a sign of superiority over it: thus a symbolic demonstration of the power of Christ, through His Church, over earthly rulers. It was for this principle that John Fisher and Thomas More were prepared, like Peter, to shed their blood.
Thus, though she was a ‘modern’ when it came to style and to attitude, it is clear that Marga was also very attentive to matters of traditional iconography, the elements of which could stretch back hundreds of years.
For her, it appears, colour therefore had to serve two purposes. One, as a ‘modern’ artist, she demanded that her colouring had to be startlingly dramatic; but, secondly, she knew that colours also had deep-rooted associations for the observer, which she wanted to perpetuate.