Sunday, March 08, 2015

Port Glasgow Resurrection

Sir Stanley Spencer (1891 – 1959)
Port Glasgow Cemetery
Oil on canvas
50.8 X 76.2 cm
British Council Collection

Sir Stanley Spencer (1891 – 1959)
Resurrection: The Hill of Zion
Oil on canvas
110 x 205 cm
Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston

Sir Stanley Spencer (1891 – 1959)
Resurrection, Re-Union
Oil on canvas
89.9 x 165.9 cm
Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums, Scotland

Sir Stanley Spencer (1891 – 1959)
The Resurrection: The Reunion of Families
Oil on canvas
76.2 x 101.6 cm
Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection, Scotland

Sir Stanley Spencer (1891 – 1959)
The Resurrection, Tidying
Oil on canvas
76.2 x 101.6 cm
Birmingham Museums Trust, England

Sir Stanley Spencer (1891 – 1959)
The Resurrection
Oil on canvas
76.8 x 189 cm
Southampton City Art Gallery, Southampton, England

Sir Stanley Spencer (1891 – 1959)
The Resurrection: Port Glasgow
Oil paint on canvas
 2146 x 6655 mm
Tate Britain, London

During the Second World War, Spencer went as a War artist to Port Glasgow on the Clyde (20 miles from Glasgow) 

The town was a major and important shipbuilding centre in the war effort

It was also badly affected by the Bliz on 6th and 7th May, 1941 and German bombing

In the Blitz, some 246 people died in Greenock during the two nights' raiding and 626 were injured, 290 of them seriously. A further 52 were listed as 'missing', believed killed in the town. 74 died in Port Glasgow – 30 in the one shelter alone in Woodhall Terrace (very near to Port Glasgow Cemetery) hit by a 250kg bomb. 

In May 1940 Spencer worked at Lithgows’s ship yards. He filled innumerable sketchbooks with plans for a complete series of paintings detailing the activities of the yard. A scaled-down version of the plan was eventually accepted by the committee and Spencer set to work. 

By 1943 his enthusiasm has begun to wane and he turned to a project closer to his heart: the celebration of Port Glasgow in a large painting some 15 metres across with Christ seated in Judgement on the Hill of Zion as figures rise from their graves. 

Spencer explained the background to his Resurrection - Port Glasgow paintings:
"Seemed to me full of some inward surging meaning, a kind of joy, that I longed to get closer to and understand to in some way fulfil; and I felt that all this life and meaning was somehow grouped round and in some way led up to the cemetery on the hill outside the town…and I began to see the Post Glasgow Resurrection that I have drawn and painted in the last five years. 
I seemed to see that it rose in the midst of a great place and that all in the plain were resurrecting and moving towards it…I knew that the resurrection would be directed from the hill. ... 
As it has worked out this hillside cemetery has become The Hill of Sion where Christ seated in the top centre, directs the prophets, angels and disciples at the resurrection. 
Among the lilac here is a standing prophet scanning the country and by him a trumpeting angel; a recording angel with a scroll is above and a second trumpeting angel on the other side; one of the disciples squats and hugs his ankles. Beyond the left slope of the hill some girls lead a chain of children climbing from the plain, and beyond on the right side there are resurrected men and women" 
(Sir Stanley Spencer on The Port Glasgow Resurrection Series)

One is reminded of one of Donne`s Holy Sonnets (Number IV - "The Doomesday")  - Spencer was a devotee of Donne:
"At the round earths imagin’d corners, blow
Your trumpets, Angells, and arise arise
From death, you numberlesse infinities,
Of soules, and to your scattered bodies goe,
All whom the flood did, and the fire shall overthrow,
All whom warre, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despaire, law, chance, hath slaine, and you whose eyes,
Shall behold God, and never tast deaths woe"

Donne conflates Revelation 7:1 ("four angels standing at the four corners of the earth") and Revelation 8:2 ("seven angels" to whom "were given seven trumpets") as well as 1 Corinthians 15:52: "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."

In the Devotions, Donne anticipates his own hearing on Doomsday: "Then I shall hear his angels proclaim the Surgite mortui, Rise, ye dead. Though I be dead, I shall hear the voice; the sounding of the voice and the working of the voice shall be all one. . ." (II. Expostulation).

His biographer, Walton,  reports that Donne, on his death-bed, said:
"I cannot plead innocency of life, especially of my youth; But I am to be judged by a merciful God, who is not willing to see what I have done amiss. And, though of my self I have nothing to present to him but sins and misery: yet, I know he looks not upon me now as I am of my self, but as I am in my Saviour. . . . " (Izaak Walton, The Life of Dr. John Donne (1640) pages 76-77)

But perhaps it was Blessed John Newman who in his Sermon Rising with Christ  from Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volume 6 (1842; 1869) who summarised what was the vision of Spencer:

"And much more on His resurrection was He withdrawn from this troublesome world, and at peace, as the Psalmist foretold it. "I have set My King upon My holy hill of Sion." 
"Ever since the world began hath Thy seat been prepared; Thou art from everlasting. The floods are risen, O Lord, the floods have lift up their voice; the floods lift up their waves. The waves of the sea are mighty and rage horribly; but yet the Lord, who dwelleth on high, is mightier." [Ps. ii. 6; xciii. 3-5.] ... 
These passages may be taken as types, if not as instances, of the doctrine and precept which the text contains. Christ is risen on high, we must rise with Him. He is gone away out of sight, and we must follow Him. He is gone to the Father, we, too, must take care that our new life is hid with Christ in God. This was the gracious promise, which is signified in the prayer He offered before His passion for all His disciples, even to the end of the world. "Holy Father," 
He said, "keep through Thine own Name, those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, as We are ... I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world ... Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word; that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee; that they may be one in Us ... I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one … that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me, may be in them, and I in them." [John xvii. 11, 15, 16, 20, 21, 23, 26.] 
Agreeably to this sacred and awful announcement, St. Paul speaks in  the text and following verses; "If ye, then, be risen with Christ," he says, "seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. Mortify, therefore, your members which are upon the earth." . ..
It is then the duty and the privilege of all disciples of our glorified Saviour, to be exalted and transfigured with Him; to live in heaven in their thoughts, motives, aims, desires, likings, prayers, praises, intercessions, even while they are in the flesh; to look like other men, to be busy like other men, to be passed over in the crowd of men, or even to be scorned or oppressed, as other men may be, but the while to have a secret channel of communication with the Most High, a gift the world knows not of; to have their life hid with Christ in God. Men of this world live in this world, and depend upon it; they place their happiness in this world; they look out for its honours or comforts.  ...
All this, my brethren, I say is our portion, if we choose but to accept it. "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, or who shall rise up in His holy place? Who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, or who shall rest upon Thy holy hill? Even he that leadeth an uncorrupt life, and doeth the thing that is right, and speaketh the truth from his heart. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek Him, even of them that seek thy face, O Jacob." 
Aspire, then, to be "fellow-citizens of the Saints and of the household of God." 
Follow their steps as they have followed Christ. Though the hill be steep, yet faint not, for the reward is great; and till you have made the trial, you can form no idea how great that reward is, or how high its nature. The invitation runs, "O taste, and see how gracious the Lord is." If you have hitherto thought too little of these things, if you have thought religion lies merely in what it certainly does consist in also, in filling your worldly station well, in being amiable, and well-behaved, and considerate, and orderly,—but if you have thought it was nothing more than this, if you have neglected to stir up the great gift of God which is lodged deep within you."

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