George Frederick Bodley
There is a book on my shelf – a LARGE book – that has sat on there for far too long. It is time to do a little dusting off, both of the book, of my knowledge of Ecclesiastical History, and the Greats from the Gothic Era. So without further ado, tonight’s topic: the book entitled George Frederick Bodley by Michael Hall. And before I begin, there is a confession to make. I know very little about George Bodley. Hence, the need for the book.
George Frederick Bodley was born in 1827, and began his careen as a pupil of George Gilbert Scott in 1845. By 1860, his influence as an architect was well noted:
No English architect between 1806 and 1900 did more to direct taste in Ecclesiastical Décor than George Frederick Bodley……..During those forty years his highly original style, imitated but never surpassed by his juniors, set the tone, especially in more conservative Anglo-Catholic circles. (Schoeser, 2009, p. 57)
Over the years, Bodley developed relationships with the Morris firm, which lasted for many years. By 1874, Bodley became a founding partner in Watts & Co. From that point forward, Watts & Co and Morris & Co were in competition for supplying church embroideries.
The first glance through the book is always done with the intent to locate examples of Liturgical Vestments and altar hangings, as well as any details of his work relating to Ecclesiastical Embroidery.While the book’s focus is broader that mere embroidery, the representations pictured do not disappoint.
A brief history of Bodley’s work in Ecclesiastical embroidery is related to his renovation of St. Paul, Knightsbridge in the 1890’s:
Bodley used Watts for almost all his embroidery (Fig. 188), and where amateur embroiderers were unavoidable he insisted on Watts supervising them, as at St Paul, Knightsbridge where a magnificent set of red vestments designed by Bodley in 1901 was executed by the church’s own embroidery guild in Watt’s workshop. (Fig. 184 & 185). (Hall, 2014, p. 271)
While the focus on this book is on the architecture of churches, there are some exceptional examples of church vestments included in the book. Bodley supplied embroidery designs, not only to Watts & Co, but to others such as the Community of St. Peter’s in Horbury; St. Mary the Virgin in Watage; the Ladies’ Ecclesiastical Embroidery Society, and the Royal School of Needlework. The success of his embroidery designs and the vast number of commissions may be attributed in part to his understanding and knowledge relating to the use of embroidery materials and techniques.
Bodley’s work with amateur embroiderers did not end with the completion of St. Pauls, Knightsbridge. By 1902, when Rosalie Stolterfoht suggested that an embroidery association could carry out the work of creating embroideries for the new Liverpool Cathedral, the author notes the following response:
Bodley was initially doubtful that amateurs were up to the required standard and insisted that each worker send a specimen of work for approval and that all frontals should be made up by Watts. All the work was carried out to his designs………….and the quality of the work was sufficient for Bodley to drop his initial requirement that the faces of figures should be stitched by professional embroiderers. (Hall, 2014, p. 271-2)
This quotation hints at the story told in more detail in the book entitled The Embroideries at Liverpool Cathedral by Mary Schoeser, 2009. The tale is one of perseverance and dedication by a group of amateur embroiderers who show their skill to be equal to that of the professional embroiderers.
This is a lovely example of an altar hanging with orphrey bands. When I first spotted this altar frontal, it was a bit of a surprise. The altar does not appear to be a large high altar, and yet, for this frontal, a liturgical fabric with a large-scale pattern has been used. And it looks fantastic! What helps this large liturgical pattern to work well on a smaller altar frontal is the combination of the gold and black design worked on a red base fabric. The three main motifs of the base fabric have been divided by orphrey bands. The background fabric, which is the focal point, has three divisions made by using the four orphrey bands. This creates that perfect balance and symmetry which is pleasing to the eye. One other thing to notice is the super frontal has four large sections divided by five smaller orphreys. Again, lovely to look at. While the orphrey bands on the super frontal do not match up with the orphrey bands on the frontal, this combination works beautifully together.
This frontal breaks the so-called “rule” which goes along the lines of this: “Large scale patterns are best used on larger sized projects. They should never be used on a small project. They will look out-of-place.” Yet with skillful design planning and placement, we see this “rule” can be broken. This is the art of a master designer.
This book, which details the life work of George Frederick Bodley, also intertwines the history of other great men of that era, such as John D. Sedding, Ninian Comper, A.W.N. Pugin, and too many more to list here. Various schools and methodologies are discussed, famous works are pictured, and there is an amusing section that relates how these great men interacted with the artisans who brought their visions to life in the form of textiles, stone and wood carving, and any other form of church art work one could imagine. With over five hundred pages, the book might take a while to finish, but it is interesting to learn more about the process of design, both of the churches, and the furnishings used to complete the project.
Solo Dei Gloria
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Hall, M. (2014). George Frederick Bodley and the Later Gothic Revival in Britain and America. Newhaven & London: Yale University Press.
Schoeser, M. (1998) The Watts Book of Embroidery English Church Embroidery 1833-1953. London: Watts and Co Ltd., Friends of the Liverpool Cathedral.
Schoeser, M. (2009) The Embroideries at Liverpool Cathedral. Liverpool: Liverpool Cathedral.