A rare stained glass window of St Margaret of Antioch by Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts luminary Sir Edward Burne-Jones is coming to auction in Tennants Auctioneers’ 20th Century Design Sale on 4th March with an estimate of £15,000-20,000 plus buyer’s premium. As the vast majority of Burne-Jones’ stained glass windows remain in their original buildings, it is extremely rare to see an example of his work coming onto the open market.
The stained glass window was designed by Burne-Jones, but was made and sold by Morris & Co., the company set up by William Morris in 1861 in partnership with some of the leading artists and designers of the day, who included Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Ford Madox Brown and architect Philip Webb. The late 19th century saw an extraordinary period of church building and renovation, and Morris & Co. were given many important commissions, producing the finest stained glass of the era. Burne-Jones’ elegant and painterly designs were made by highly skilled craftsmen in Morris’s workshop, and are characterised by their naturalistic movement, flowing drapery and botanical details.
St Margaret was a fourth century saint, who was cast out by her father, a pagan priest, when she converted to Christianity. According to the Golden Legend, a medieval compilation of saint’s biographies, she was devoured by Satan disguised as a dragon. She subsequently burst from the beast’s stomach, unharmed, and later became the patron saint of childbirth, and is depicted in the window with the dragon at her feet. The saint was a subject Burne-Jones returned to repeatedly in his stained glass designs, creating numerous variations. The first was made for St Peter’s Church in Bramley, West Yorkshire, which is recorded in the Morris & Co. Catalogue of Designs for Stained Glass, and sixteen others are known today. However, the closest match to the present panel is in a watercolour design in the Huntington Library collection in California for three windows of female saints for All Saints Church in Winnipeg, Canada. An inscription on the drawing by its previous owner, architect Sanford Berger, notes that only the central panel of St Hilda was completed and installed, and indeed the window still resides in the church’s Lady Chapel. Whilst the St Margaret of Antioch window lacks the top panel and the inscription to the foot of the window, the rose and crown detail down each side is an exact match to that found in the St Hilda window, both of which vary slightly from the original drawing.