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Diary

27 February 2015

courtesy of the maas gallery

Wasting no time: The Devout Childhood of St Elizabeth of Hungary by Charles Allston Collins. The frame was made to match the one on Millais's The Return of the Dove to the Ark

Wasting no time: The Devout Childhood of St Elizabeth of Hungary by Charles Allston Collins. The frame was made to match the one on Millais's The Re...

I TRY not to mention the Pre-Raphaelites to our art critic the Revd Dr Nicholas Cranfield, because suddenly the temperature in the room seems to drop. But for the Maas Gallery in Mayfair, founded by the late Jeremy Maas in 1960 when the Brotherhood's reputation was at its nadir, catering for its admirers is the company's raison d'être.

Most of our readers must know Holman Hunt's The Light of the World (1853): it remains a very well-loved painting. I hope you can still drop into Keble College Chapel in Oxford and press a timeswitch to light it up. (There is another version of it in St Paul's Cathedral.)

As everyone who was ever given a Prayer Book with The Light of the World as its frontispiece knows, the door at which the Lord Jesus stands and knocks, lantern in hand, doesn't have a handle on the outside. This is generally thought to symbolise a truth about the human soul.

Now the Revd Dr Bill Beaver has kindly drawn my attention to the Maas Gallery's discovery of another handleless-door painting by a contemporary of Holman Hunt, Charles Collins (1828-73), from a private collection in Florida.

The Tate has a preliminary drawing, bequeathed to it in 1920, but this is the finished article: The Devout Childhood of St Elizabeth of Hungary, 1851-52, depicting an aspect of her life from Butler's Lives of the Saints: "If she found the door of the chapel in the palace shut, not to lose her labour, she knelt down at the threshold, and always put her petition to the throne of God."

Rupert Maas suggests that the model may have been Elizabeth Siddal, who notoriously took poorly after posing in cold bathwater for Millais's Ophelia. (The Collins was intended as a companion to The Return of the Dove to the Ark by Millais, but was not done in time.)

But he asserts more confidently, following Judith Bronkhurst, that the door is the mirror image of Hunt's, and argues, in a footnote to a long essay about the painting, that Collins and Hunt could well have found the door together, on a disused industrial building, while ambling back through Worcester Park to Worcester Park Farm from Kingston (now Surbiton) Station.

Was the omission of a handle or lock in Collins's painting merely a flaw, but one that inspired Hunt to something greater? "To Hunt, 'the closed door was the obstinately shut mind', closed to Christ - but what did Collins' door mean? Quite possibly nothing so articulate."

The gallery will be exhibiting the Collins on its stand at the TEFAF Maastricht art fair, 13-22 March.

www.maasgallery.co.uk
www.tefaf.com

THERE is a postscript to Peter Street's article about the prophetess Joanna Southcott (Features, 12 December 2014). Charles Doble, a deanery lay chairman in Somerset, tells us that she plagued his curiously named forebear the Revd Nutcombe Nutcombe, Cathedral and Diocesan Chancellor at Exeter from 1760 until his death in 1810.

Nutcombe's papers survive, and contain several letters from Joanna Southcott, whom he regarded as a "blessed nuisance".

No wonder. In one letter, she accuses Nutcombe of fathering a child, murdering it soon after birth, and placing it in a series of boxes at a location known to her. She calls on the "black-hearted" Chancellor to repent of a sin of which, Mr Doble writes, Nutcombe was clearly not guilty.

"His apparently fierce and somewhat apoplectic visage looks as though it has been caused by the incipient attacks on the Anglican Church at the time, principally brought about by the Methodist movement! In fact, his father-in-law's memorial in Exeter Cathedral records Bishop Lavington as being 'a defender against enthusiasm'."

Southcott claimed to have prophesied Bishop Lavington's death, which, in any case, followed a long and well-documented illness.

Mr Doble is no enthusiast for Southcott. Concerning her "box of prophecies", he says briskly: "It is high time these were opened, read, and then consigned, with her memory, to some dusty corner of the local record office."

NEIL INKLEY has been writing to the Church Times, I think, for as long as I have worked here, though not, I expect, since 1886, which was the date of the first page that came up when I searched for "N. J. Inkley" in our online archive.

Lately, he has been a regular caption competitor, though how many times he has won I am not sure. He says three or four; I can confirm two (remember Polly?) - but you know what search engines are like.

For 29 years, he has been Hon. Treasurer of the Blackburn diocesan branch of the Prayer Book Society, besides serving the society in national capacities. Since he handwrites his letters and competition entries, and faxes them to us, a sensible economy now that stamps are so dear, I imagined his having a Luddite streak so far as the digital age was concerned.

But no. In early retirement, he supervised "the production of a BCP computer package automatically producing the correct liturgy for any given date", with recommendations for suitable hymns. "I do know what I like in liturgical matters," he says - as if we couldn't guess.

ONE of those people who blog under a silly pseudonym (this column dispensed with the byline "Squirrel Nutkin" in the 1960s, but it seems that there is no such thing as progress) took a pop at the Archbishop of Canterbury's media officer Ed Thornton last week for having worked for the Fabians.

In between times, Ed worked as a reporter on the Church Times, which may (who knows?) have been at least as relevant an entry in his CV. But never let a fact get in the way of a blog post, I suppose.

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