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Brighton's Pre-Raphaelite windows

PUBLISHED: 13:24 20 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:55 20 February 2013

Brighton's Pre-Raphaelite windows

Brighton's Pre-Raphaelite windows

As Tate Britain celebrates the much-feted Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood with a new exhibition we take a look at their finest stained glass work, at St Michael's and All Angels in Brighton

This autumn, Brightons cathedral of the back streets celebrates its 150th anniversary. St Michaels and All Angels has what are widely acknowledged to be the finest
set of Pre-Raphaelite windows in existence.


In his book Englands Thousand Best Churches, Simon Jenkins calls St Michaels one of Englands grandest Victorian churches and refers to its internationally-famed stained glass. The Grade I-listed building is packed with treasures, including work by William Morris, Burne-Jones, Ford Maddox Brown, Rossetti, Philip Webb and Peter Paul Marshall.


In 1909, the stained glass artist Selwyn Image wrote: Brighton possesses the finest modern piece of stained glass that has ever been done...for the magnificence of its design, the sense of being in the presence of supernatural beings, the perfectness of its splendid colouringthis specimen seemed to be perfection.


The Pre-Raphaelites are currently enjoying something of a renaissance. Tate Britains exhibition Pre-Raphaelite: Victorian Avant-Garde runs until January, and Emma Thomspon has written a film about John Ruskins wife Effie, scheduled for release next year.


When St Michaels was built, most new churches in Brighton were intended for the poor. The wealthy Wagner family, priests of private means, used their wealth to build churches like St Bartholomews near the railway station and St Pauls, West Street.


By contrast, St Michaels and All Angels was built by affluent people for their own use. The two Misses Windle, who lived at 5 Powis Grove, provided most of the funds for the building, and other aristocratic members of the congregation paid for the fixtures and fittings by subscription. Sadly, records of the windows funding are lost.


The church was designed by George Bodley, who later became a very eminent church architect. Bodley met William Morris when they were both at the start of their career, and this is only the second set of church windows the Brotherhood worked on.


Many of the windows in the church are reproduced in other churches in other guises because the artists re-used their sketches often. At the time, though, the windows would have been strikingly modern and avant-garde.


Some of the best-known windows in the church are, unusually, at eye level. The Flight into Egypt by Sir Edward Burne-Jones shows the Virgin Mary, Joseph and Jesus preceded by angels. Marys shawl is flying over her shoulder and there is a real sense of movement. The window has appeared on Christmas cards, books and even the cover of a clerical whodunit by Kate Charles.


FIND OUT MORE


On 6 October at 3pm, Dr Carol Jacobi, curator at Tate Britain and expert on the Pre-Raphaelites, will give the annual lecture at St Michaels and All Angels to complement the Pre-Raphaelites - Victorian Avant-Garde exhibition which opened in September.


The church is full of treasures by some of our most prestigious artists, and all need to be maintained. The Friends of St Michaels Church raise money for a specific project each year. Luckily the windows themselves are in beautiful condition, but they rattle in windy weather and need to be cemented into their frames.
Find out more at the Friends website, friendsofsaintmichaels.co.uk

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