Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Dr Sharon Fermor

My current research focusses on the transmission and adaptation of Italian Renaissance art within (19 British culture as seen both in the copying of Old Masters, and in the narrative formulae adopted in late (19 stained glass. I am particularly interested in the use and re-use of the art of Raphael in this respect. In a review of a Raphael exhibition held in 2020, the scholar Arnold Nesselrath described Raphael as a “”universal artist “and “Italy’s gift to the world.” This formula dates back for centuries: in William Smith’s “Exposition of Great Pictures” of the early (19 Raphael’s art was described as being made “for anyone and everyone”. Yet the implications of this seemingly infinite adaptability for the interpretation of the individual case, or the individual “borrowing” have rarely been addressed. I attempt to consider this question at a local level, within specific commissions and programmes..


In 1891 a Warwick artist, Laura Cookes, painted a copy of Raphael’s Madonna della Seggiola which she donated to the Leamington Free Public Library. Now in the Leamington Spa Gallery this is a rare survival of a copy of an Old Master made not for money or display in a private collection but donated to a public educational body. The choice of this particular Madonna, described by Smith as having “nothing Popish about it”, is intriguing, the more so as Cookes lived in close proximity to Lili von Sandizell, aunt by marriage to Julia Cartwright Ady - an early biographer of Raphael. Cartwright Ady describes visiting her aunt, whose rooms in Leamington were furnished with copies of two other Raphael Madonnas, but for whom, as a staunch Roman Catholic, they fulfilled quite other purposes. My research is focussed on filling out the significance of these examples together with other copies in great houses such as Charlecote.


At the same time I am looking at the appearance of motifs taken from the Raphael Tapestry Cartoons in the narratives of local stained glass in the (19, especially in that designed by artists who were part of the New Oxford Movement such as Nathaniel Westlake. Designed for hangings for the the Sistine Chapel in 1515, the Cartoons were subsequently acquired by Charles, Prince of Wales, used by James I in the Mortlake Tapestry Factory, preserved by Oliver Cromwell, assembled as paintings for William III and displayed at Hampton Court. In copies made by Sir James Thornhill in the (18, Raphael’s Acts of the Apostles, were co-opted as illustrations of the early years of the English Church so that, by the late (19, the Anglican credentials of these supremely Catholic designs would seem to have been firmly established. In the religious pluralism of the period, however, these touchstones of religious expression were open to be renegotiated in an art form where unity of style was barely considered, so that Raphael’s genius in inventing explanatory gestures could be played off against images of pathos derived from the Northern Renaissance.