‘One of the wonders of Oxford’: A look at the extraordinary Campion Hall

In the second of two articles, Clive Aslet examines the setting of Campion Hall, especially the decoration of the chapel, one of the city’s outstanding interiors. Photos by Will Price for Country Life.

What secular Jesuit Father Martin D’Arcy called his treasure hunt began in the early 1930s. On becoming Master of Campion Hall, the center of Jesuit life in Oxford, he remembered how Lady Lovat, with whom he had lived in Scotland, had told him that an unusual item was about to enter the market. Due to (relative) poverty, Prince Rupert of Bavaria, the last heir to the Bavarian throne, was selling a mobile altar that belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots. D’Arcy bought it, probably at a good price, for the private hall—actually the college—that Lutyens had built for him in 1934–1936. It will be the first of many works of art and objects of historical interest to decorate the building. D’Arcy’s budget may have been modest, but his charm and persuasion went far.

There would be early Renaissance robes bought from an Italian refugee, bowls procured with the help of an Armenian Jew, and magnificent robes of gold brocade from China adorned with dragons and birds – a seamstress nun turned them into a robe by cutting the armpits and adding “a small golden cross behind”. By the end of the 1970s, the collection of vestments had expanded from medieval to Dior.

Some of the treasures were modern—drawings by Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson, Rouault and Picasso. Lawrence Whistler scrawled a poem with a diamond on the glass of the garden door. Having met Princess Marie Louise on a Greek cruise, D’Arcy purchased plates destined for the coronation of Edward VIII, inscribed that the king was crowned on May 28, 1937. entering the hall, D’Arcy liked to challenge visitors to see if they could spot a mistake. (Edward VIII, of course, was never crowned.)

Rice. 1: High canopied main altar. Pay attention to the cardinal lights. Campion Hall, Oxford University. Filmed by Will Price for Country Life. © Country life

The portrait of Saint Ignatius of Loyola by Jordaens arrived in memory of a student who died during World War II. Bertram Bisgood, a tall and burly stockbroker, gave many gifts, including a Murillo and a large ivory crucifix; ‘he appears in Wisden because in the first cricket match he played for his Somerset county he earned a century.” The Franco-Burgundian chasuble, recognized by experts as one of the finest medieval vestments to hit the market, was bought at auction after World War II: the lots were so badly displayed that few merchants noticed them. — except for one who said he wouldn’t bet against D’Arcy. Similarly, Sir Kenneth Clarke, as he was then, wrote that he hoped to buy the Crucifix, drawn by Michelangelo and painted by his assistant Venusti; he stopped bidding as soon as he saw D’Arcy’s upraised hand, believing that the religious house was “the most appropriate place for such a beautiful picture”.

One impressive work was indirectly done by Lutyens himself. Before boarding the liner at Southampton for New York, D’Arcy had lunch with his architect, and as they waited for food, the latter pulled out a photograph of 17th-century Spanish carvings. The owner wondered if it would be suitable for Lutyens’ Liverpool Cathedral, whose crypt was then under construction, but D’Arcy immediately recognized it as an almost life-size image of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, with (kneeling) his followers, and caught it for Campion Hall. Located opposite the foot of the main staircase, it has become one of the hall’s most prominent treasures. (Rice. 8). Mounted on the wall of the stairs is a plaque depicting Saint Martin in a modern military uniform, created by Eric Gill’s studio.

Rice. 3: Door of the sacristy. Grisaille of the Assumption of Mahoney, bottom right. Campion Hall, Oxford University. Filmed by Will Price for Country Life. © Country life

Some Christians were dismissive of D’Arcy’s pursuit of beautiful objects, leading him to compare Judas’ objections to Mary Magdalene’s criticism of pouring precious oil on Christ’s feet. D’Arcy wrote that one of the justifications for his activities was that “the Jesuits were so often vilified – sometimes quite unfairly, because of their lack of taste, more barbarians even than Barberini. Campion Hall would prove that this bad taste is not as prevalent as the writings of the Society of Jesus thought. And, after all, wouldn’t an art collection be appropriate in Oxford, a city that is considered the world’s “example of culture”?

As the center of life at Campion Hall, the chapel has become a work of art in its own right. Lutyens created on the first floor a spatially simple space of a Romanesque character: a single chamber covered by a barrel vault. (Picture 1). Beauty added restraint. A central aisle paved in black and white (slate and Portland stone) leads to an altar over which a canopy made of pine looks like the hand of what Lutyens designed for Liverpool Catholic Cathedral. Reaching almost to the top of the vault, 27 feet high, it is powerful but not overpowering. Here again appears the order of Delhi, which is depicted on the doorway in front of the garden of Campion Hall.

Another memory of the Viceroy’s House are the lamps: disks of pale blue glass suspended from cords, but with the added detail of a tassel that turns them into cardinal hats (so tall that they can’t be reached). Joking or not, dainty fittings add charm to a simple interior. There is only one color accent other than the painting of the risen Christ and Mary Magdalene now hanging behind the altar: the undulating beam at the end of the oak pews, painted in what Arthur Oswald, describing Campion Hall in COUNTRY LIVING on June 27, 1936, called sealing wax red. When asked about the color, Lutyens said that it should be similar to his blood. It was too poignant: he wrote a letter of apology the next day. The side panel contains lithographs of the Way of the Cross by Frank Brangwyn. (Fig 4), printed on thin sheets of wood; presented by the artist.

Rice. 4: Ways of the Cross of Brangwyn. Campion Hall, Oxford University. Filmed by Will Price for Country Life. © Country life

Small altars in the aisle of the chapel. (Fig 7) and the intimate private chapel, from whose interior windows overlook the main part of the chapel, is monumental in its austerity and geometry. Another chapel can be accessed through an archway at the east end of the main chapel: the Lady Chapel. (Figure 5). Suddenly the visitor is transported to a world of spring flowers and gentle, homely observation, for the walls are almost entirely covered in frescoes by Charles Mahoney. (Fig 2). They were commissioned in 1941 with royalties from Evelyn Waugh. Edmund Campion: Jesuit and Martyr, written as a thank you offering to D’Arcy, who was responsible for its conversion. The fee was £600 and Mahoney’s work was estimated at £560.

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The original idea was to commission Stanley Spencer, who completed his paintings for the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burclair in 1932. Declaring that “in my picture I owe nothing to God and everything to the devil”, Spencer proved to be too much for the fathers. and it was clear that he would not be ready to live at Campion Hall for the duration of the project. The Catalan painter Josep Maria Sert told Lutyens that he would paint the apse if Lutyens gave him a job as an artist in Liverpool Cathedral; Lutyens couldn’t promise, so the deal was cancelled. Meeting by chance with Sir John Rothenstein, director of the Tate Gallery, D’Arcy asked his advice. He recommended Mahoney and described his work, remarkable for its precise observation of nature. D’Arcy replied, “Done.”

Born in 1903, Mahoney won a scholarship first to the Beckenham School of Art and then to the Royal College of Art, where he later taught at the School of Painting. In a dedication published after Mahoney’s death in 1968, Rothenstein described his vision as “a clear and detailed observation of detail, which enabled him to depict plants, stems, leaves, flowers, and trees in black-and-white flower beds more convincingly than most others.” “. other artists with the help of color… His vision preferred to focus not only on the close, but also on the ordinary, the familiar, even when it was ugly. Rusty corrugated iron roofs, brick walls, wheelbarrows and allotments often feature in his landscapes. When, after the success of Rex Whistler’s murals for the Tate, Sir Joseph Duveen looked around for another project and settled on Morley College, SE1, as the right place, Mahoney, not yet 27 years old, was chosen as one of three contributing artists. contribution. the others are Edward Bowden and Eric Ravilius. Working in oils mixed with wax on a canvas attached to a wall, he chose as his theme “The Pleasures of Life”, in which figures depicting the seven Muses were complemented by scenes of village dances, outdoor entertainment and apple picking. Alas, Morley College was bombed during World War II and Campion Hall was its only large-scale commission to survive.

Rice. 5: South wall of the chapel of the Virgin Mary. Campion Hall, Oxford University. Filmed by Will Price for Country Life. © Country life

Like Spencer, Mahoney filled the life he saw around him with the radiance of the Divine. His gentle style, delicate colors and enjoyment of flowers were especially suited to the chapel of the Virgin, whose theme is the life of the Virgin Mary. The shepherds were modeled after the locals around Ambleside in the Lake District, where King’s College was evacuated during the war. (Rice. 6).

The little girl in The Coronation of Our Lady is Mahoney’s daughter, and the cherubim are village children: D’Arcy’s friend and Campion alumnus, Father Vincent Bywater, recalled that “the little visitor was thrilled to learn how the angels had taken off their nightgowns.” their wings.” Although Bywater is not a portrait painter, we have Bywater’s credit for his ability to not only capture “a person’s features, but his characteristic expression and especially his posture.” The full-length portraits of Arnold and Tom Corbishley on the west wall are perfect.” The image of treasurer Father Stanislaus Jones S.J., who not only became a great friend but went to painting lessons with him after his retirement, is “particularly true”.

Rice. 6: Christmas reimagined by Mahoney, with shepherds in modern dress. Campion Hall, Oxford University. Filmed by Will Price for Country Life. © Country life

Mahoney was not a Catholic, perhaps not even a Christian, but rather an “agnostic socialist” according to D’Arcy. But on dreary days—he painted only in natural light, which limited his productivity during the summer months—he would walk with people in the lobby and ask them about biblical storytelling traditions. Was Joseph an old man? Were angels necessarily male? Would the shepherds bring a lamb?

Unfortunately, when Mahoney presented his bill in 1953, the then treasurer, Father Corbishley, considered the £4,000 he was asking for “a very unpleasant and unpleasant surprise”. Relationships were cut off. By the time they were restored in the 1960s, Mahoney’s breathing problem made it difficult to work with, and several scenes were only sketched in black and white.

Rice. 7: A wooden screen encloses the front chapel with an altar. Campion Hall, Oxford University. Filmed by Will Price for Country Life. © Country life

One of them, Assumption (Fig 3), shows several people involved in the founding of Campion Hall, including Lutyens, gathered around the bed on which the Virgin lies. It is an unexpectedly personal and touching memorial to their labors in a chapel that is, no doubt, as Father D’Arcy wished, one of the wonders of Oxford.

Rice. 8. Huge 17th-century Spanish panel depicting Saint Ignatius of Loyola and his followers on the main staircase. Campion Hall, Oxford University. Filmed by Will Price for Country Life. © Country life

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