Saint Oscar – Univ’s latest portrait
During the 2nd week of January 2021, scaffolding appeared in the lane between numbers 10 and 12 Merton Street and Univ’s latest portrait was installed on the staircase leading up to the New Library. The east-facing location was chosen carefully as the portrait is a stained-glass window depicting Oscar Wilde. Michael Seeney, an Oscar Wilde scholar and collector, very generously donated the window to the College.
Three years ago, in 2018, the Univ Library sent out a Christmas card featuring an item from the Robert Ross Memorial Collection. The design was one of many wonders found by Emily Green, our former Assistant Librarian, in the boxes of “miscellanea” in the Robert Ross Memorial Collection. Painted onto a piece of card was a design for a stained glass window showing Wilde in the guise of “Saint Oscar” (Fig.1: Ross Box 2.1). There is, unfortunately, no way of identifying the artist.
Many people admired the image, but we were delighted when Michael Seeney offered to have the design made into a window. A local company, Artistic Leaded Glass Co Ltd took on the project, and by September 2020 we received the first images of the work in progress (Fig.2). The image shows the cartoon, a full-size template, with the first pieces of coloured glass cut to size. By October (Fig. 3), we could see that the window would contain more than 200 pieces of glass. Some of the pieces, including Wilde’s features and the text, were painted by a specialist glass-painter, and then fired at a high temperature to meld together the glass and the colour. By the start of January 2021, all 200-odd pieces were joined together using strips of lead (Fig. 4). The colours don’t show up on the work-bench, so we were itching to see the window installed.
On a sunny morning the existing window came down (Fig. 5), making way for a new wooden frame (Fig. 6). Once the glass in the outer frame was in place, the central panel went in (Fig. 7) and, finally, the window was weatherproofed using a black grout-like material. The installation went smoothly and was completed in less than a day.
With the scaffolding removed and the early-morning sunshine coming through, we can finally see the finished “Saint Oscar” (Fig. 8). Wilde is dressed, here, in a fur-collared coat reminiscent of the one he wore when photographed by Napoleon Sarony on his American tour in 1882 (see oscarwildeinamerica.org). Self referentially, Wilde holds a book of his own poetry in one hand and a lily in the other. Both the lily and the sunflower, potted at his feet, are emblems of the Aesthetic Movement to which Wilde belonged.
A generous donation to the College, the window demonstrates not only the enduring interest in Oscar Wilde but also the importance of Univ’s collection of Wilde’s works, the Robert Ross Memorial Collection.
You can read more about the Robert Ross Memorial Collection, and find out why it ended up at Univ, on our Library Special Collections page and in previous Treasure Features “Univ’s unsung treasure” and “Bookplates of the Robert Ross Memorial Collections”.
With thanks to Matt Baker of Artistic Leaded Glass Co Ltd for permission to publish his photographs (Figs. 2-4).
Published: 16 February 2021
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