Many people seem to think that to say “Margaret Rope is virtually completely ignored” – as we do on this website – is a vast exaggeration. You can see it on their faces: they look sceptical.
After all, they seem to think, can the foremost Catholic female artist of her generation, the finest artist ever born in Shropshire, with work on show across the world, really have come to be “ignored”?
In fact a large tranche of art-history and architecture books simply don’t mention her. On this website, we have a whole page devoted to the learned histories that express no knowledge of her work.
It is a puzzle, and leads one to the verge of dreaming up conspiracy theories to explain this bizarre lack of recognition for her.
The most likely explanation (discounting the conspiracy theories), is that many historians work like sheep – they often just follow the ones previous to them. Each will add their own specialist insights but, in general, they work off what has already been established.
For various reasons, which we go into elsewhere, Marga was marginalised in art history from the 1940s – and writers have since just followed this ‘Establishment’ view.
The oddest example of this treatment of Marga (or, rather, non-treatment) is in John Leonard’s definitive 2004 work ‘Churches Of Shropshire and Their Treasures’.
Now, it’s a very fine book, describing in detail over three hundred of Shropshire’s churches, and is as fine a guide as one would wish to have.
It has also insightful sections on, among others, spires, pulpits, monuments – and stained glass.
And it does not mention Margaret Rope once.
To have a whole section on stained glass in Shropshire and not mention Marga, even in passing, seems almost wilful somehow.
Also, for some unexplained reason, Mr Leonard has decided to omit, from his list of 300, the two churches in Shropshire most associated with Marga’s work – Shrewsbury Cathedral and Newport SS Peter & Paul RC Church. One is almost suspicious…
Anyway, the upshot is: that the finest and best book about churches in Shropshire completely disregards the achievements of Margaret Rope.
Which, I think, proves to sceptics the original point in this article. Yes, she is unfairly “ignored” – believe it!
If you’d like to leave a comment, please use the comments-box further down this page.
Since this article was written, a few people have told me that Shrewsbury Cathedral may have been omitted from Mr Leonard’s book because a cathedral is not a ‘church’.
That argument (which is rather pedantic anyway) doesn’t hold water, as Mr Leonard likes to be pretty inclusive – he mentions estate chapels and even monastic hospitals (in passing), not just ‘churches’.
And… it still doesn’t explain why Newport SS Peter & Paul Church is absent (or indeed the historic Shrewsbury Unitarian Church too, oddly).
No book is good enough not to need revision, and one hopes the next revision will correct the omissions.
There also may then be a chance to correct another mistake in the book: it claims that there are no windows in Shropshire by Christopher Whall, a stained-glass artist who had a huge effect on church decoration across Britain – and influenced Marga’s work too.
In fact, there is a Christopher Whall – in St Nicholas, Newport – and a fine piece it is too.