Part V – A Russian Perspective

Part V – A Russian Perspective

The furore over the new Cathedral mosaics in 1934-35, followed by the War, resulted in no new mosaics until 1950. The subsequent period was dominated by the Russian, Boris Anrep.

The very public row over Gilbert Pownall’s mosaics for the Lady Chapel, the sanctuary arch and the apse led to Cardinal Hinsley ordering the removal of the latter and setting up a committee to advise him on decoration. This lapsed with Hinsley’s death in 1943 and his successor, Cardinal Griffin, himself authorised two new mosaics – one representing St Thérèse of Lisieux in the south transept (designed by John Trinick and installed in 1950) and the other of ‘Christ the Divine Physician’, a memorial to the officers and men of the Royal Army Medical Corps, designed and installed by Michael Leigh in St George’s Chapel in 1952.

These and other decisions resulted in a letter of protest to ‘The Times’ in late 1953, signed by many of those who had protested to Hinsley about Pownall’s designs and criticising recent mosaic work as ‘conspicuously lacking in the fine qualities of the art’. Cardinal Griffin hurriedly reconstituted the advisory committee. In 1958 the mosaic of St Thérèse of Lisieux was replaced with a bronze by Giacomo Manzu. Before this, in 1954, the committee had asked Boris Anrep to design a new sanctuary arch mosaic but his estimate was too high. A Russian by birth, Anrep had been responsible for the mosaic on the vault of the inner crypt in 1914. But this was interrupted by the War when he returned to Russia to lead his troop of Cossacks, rescuing church icons in the process. After the Russian Revolution he returned to England. In 1924 he produced using the indirect method as he always did, the mosaic of St Oliver Plunket outside St Patrick’s Chapel, and in 1937 he designed mosaics for this chapel but they were judged too costly.

Anrep was now offered the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and in 1956 he produced a model with three main themes illustrated by scenes from the Old Testament (in the chapel nave) and from the New (in the apse). The first is Sacrifice – on the left Abel, then Abraham, Malachi and Samuel; on the right Noah. Interwoven with this theme is that of the Eucharist with the Hospitality of Abraham, the Gathering of Manna, Abraham and Melchisadek and an angel persuading Elijah to eat, continuing with ears of wheat and grape vines in the window arches into the apse with the Wedding Feast at Cana and the Feeding of the Five Thousand. The third theme is the Trinity – Abraham’s guests again, the three youths in the fiery furnace and the Trinity itself high in the apse.

Anrep chose a traditional, early Christian, style and a predominantly pale pink background to give a sense of light and space and to blend in with the marbles. Together with his assistant, Justin Vulliamy, and using the indirect method, Anrep then produced full-size coloured cartoons of the designs in his Paris studio and sent these to Venice where tesserae from Angelo Orsoni’s workshop were attached and the results crated and sent to London. The installation of the mosaics took place from 1960-62, with Peter Indri doing the fixing and Anrep himself, wreathed in smoke from his habitual Gauloises, making constant adjustments on a huge work table partitioned off in the north transept.

Meanwhile, Aelred Bartlett, brother of the Cathedral Sub-Administrator, had produced the vine and star mosaics in the transept arches and the Roman-style representation of St Nicholas in the north aisle in 1961. But for St Paul’s Chapel the committee turned again to Anrep, now almost eighty. He provided a scheme in 1961 but arranged that his assistant, Justin Vulliamy, fresh from producing a mosaic of St Christopher in the north aisle, take over. Using the indirect method again, the mosaics, showing St Paul’s conversion, shipwreck off Malta, place of execution and occupation as tent-maker (the tent on the vault), were prepared in Paris and Venice in 1962-63 and installed by Peter Indri in 1964-65. Anrep acted as adviser and detailed the principal figures but disliked the final result and distanced himself from it. He died in 1969 aged eighty-five.