'Wickedness' for the Chapel of the Ascension
Pen, ink and wash
12¾ x 5¾ inches
This study was for the Chapel of the Ascension in Bayswater, London, envisaged by its benefactress Emelia Russell Gurney as a sanctuary ‘wherein body, mind, and spirit, oppressed within the hurrying roar of the city’s life, might find repose’ (Manchester Quarterly, XXIV, 1898, p 98). After meeting Frederic Shields in 1882, she commissioned him to decorate the Chapel’s interior, sending both Shields and architect Herbert Horne to the church of Santa Maria Maggiore della Pietrasanta in Naples for inspiration. When, finally, the exterior of the building was completed in 1894, Shields began work on his series of murals and panels depicting heavily symbolic, often esoteric, imagery from both the Old and New Testaments, many of which the artist himself discusses in his pamphlet Chapel of the Ascension: Its Story and Scheme (12 editions published by the Women’s Printing Society between 1897 and 1935). The Chapel and its painting scheme - Shield’s life’s work - was destroyed during the Blitz.
Shields explained that the ‘figure of Wickedness (or Idolatry) ... being first imprisoned under a leaden lid, is then lifted up by two women, with wings like a stork, and borne through the air away to the land of Shinar, where the tower of Babel had been built’ (p 24, no. 14). Keeping company with Wickedness are a Norse god, an idolatrous icon of the Virgin and Child, and a demon - all little emblems of false worship.