Studies of Stained Glass, 'Aaron' and 'St Barbara', Santa Croce, Florence

Thomas Matthews Rooke (1842-1942). Watercolour on paper, 1887

The left-hand study shows the figure of Aaron depicted on a single panel of the tall windows behind the high altar of the church of Santa Croce, Florence.

The window comprises a number of panels of biblical figures and saints, each set within their own compartment. These separate figures are also found in the decorative scheme surrounding the windows. The early Renaissance artist Agnolo Gaddi (1350-1396) designed and partially painted the entire area.

Aaron was a biblical prophet and the brother of Moses. He is depicted in the robes of a high priest: these include the breastplate studded with symbolic jewels, the red 'ephod' (an apron-like robe) and the mitre on his head. He holds a censer filled with incense in one hand and a casket in the other.

St Barbara

The right-hand study shows a single panel from a side chapel in the church of Santa Croce, Florence. The figure is St Barbara, a Roman Christian whose father beheaded her for refusing to marry a pagan noble.

St Barbara may be recognized by the attributes or symbols she holds and by the martyr's crown she wears on her head. In one hand, she holds a chalice and wafer. In the other, she holds a sword, which represents her death by beheading, and possibly her role as the patron saint of armourers.

The Artist

T.M. Rooke (1842-1942) created many watercolour drawings for the Guild of St George.

Collection of the Guild of St George, Museums Sheffield
He first worked in an army agent's office before attending evening classes in art and became a student at the Royal Academy in 1868. The following year he was employed by William Morris's firm and became an assistant and close friend of the artist Edward Burne-Jones.

Rooke enjoyed success as an artist in his own right. He painted large biblical scenes in a style influenced by Burne-Jones and Renaissance art, and exhibited at the Royal Academy.

When Ruskin employed him, Rooke worked in a different style, drawing in watercolours and painting from life. Later, Rooke painted records of architecture for the Society for the Preservation of Pictorial Records of Ancient Works of Art.

Ruskin on Stained Glass

Ruskin wrote on the subject of stained glass in 'Modern Painting on Glass':

'the true perfection of a painted window is to be serene, intense, brilliant, like flaming jewellery; full of easily legible and quaint subjects; and exquisitely subtle, yet simple, in its harmonies' (Works, 10, p. 457).

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