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Saturday, August 22, 2009

St Rose of Lima and the Queenship of Mary

Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872-1898)
The Ascension of St. Rose of Lima
(Illustration to a passage in his unfinished novel, Under the Hill)
April 1896
From The Savoy No. 2, p. 189



Perhaps the above picture is appropriate on this special feast day of Mary: The Queenship of Mary.

St Rose of Lima (1586-1617), was the first saint canonised from the Americas. She was beatified by Pope Clement IX on April 15, 1667, and canonised on April 12, 1671 by Pope Clement X

In emulation of Saint Catherine of Siena, she fasted three times a week with secret severe penances

A constant refrain of St Rose was: "If human beings knew what it is to live in grace, no suffering would frighten them and they would gladly suffer any hardship, for grace is the fruit of patience"

She died on the feast of the Apostle St Bartholomew, to whom she was deeply devoted because he had suffered a particularly painful martyrdom.


Despite the original context and history of the illustration, the image above has an independent existence and validity. It should be remembered that Beardsley was an artist and not a philosopher, thinker or writer.

The image was not intended as religious art. By all accounts he was a rather strange complex personality. Perhaps the above illustration is a glimpse into some of his private thoughts and moments before his formal reception into the Church in March 1897.

In any event Beardsley`s feelings about the drawing are decidedly ambiguous and this is decidedly unfortunate. In his drawing he may have hit intentionally or unintentionally on a great truth.

Beardsley (1872-1898) was a precocious talent. He was born in Brighton on the south coast of England. At the age of fifteen he had illustrated his favourite books (Madame Bovary, Manon Lescaut). By the time of his death at the age of twenty-six due to tuberculosis, he had made a lasting impact on the art of illustration.

Beardsley had recurrent attacks of the disease that would end it. He suffered frequent lung hemorrhages and was often unable to work or leave his home.

He had been received into the Roman Catholic church in March 1897. He died in Menton comforted by the sacraments, a rosary between the fingers. There was Requiem Mass in Menton Cathedral day following his death.

Beardsley's style is an entirely original blend of English Pre-Raphaelitism (especially Burne-Jones' style), French Rococo engravings and Japonisme. His style is epitomized in the sparse but elegant economy of line, and the delicacy of detail

Beardsley placed aesthetic interpretation over historical correctness, preferring the illustrations to be, as he said, 'simply beautiful but irrelevant'

Feted at first as one of the “decadents”, his employability and commissions stopped as a result of the hostile moralistic outcry that followed the arrest and trial of Oscar Wilde in early 1895. His work is now enjoying a deserved revival. He ranks as a major figure of Aestheticism and of Art Nouveau.

Of Under the Hill, at Beardsley’s death his “romantic novel” remained unfinished. It is not worth the effort to read whatever remains. There is no real agreed text. His original and heavily re-worked manuscript draft is still preserved.


It is said that from various oblique mentions of his plans, however, and from the long and elaborate explanatory title given on the double-page spread which Beardsley had originally intended to open the book, it is clear that he envisaged that his version would to a large extent follow the original Tannhäuser legends: mention is made of Tannhäuser’s further journeying to Rome, of his repentance, and of Tannhäuser’s attainment of a state of Grace.