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Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Modern Art in City Churches

Austin Friars, London was an Augustinian friary in the City of London from its foundation, probably in the 1260s, until its dissolution in November 1538. A statue by T. Metcalfe from 1989 provides a visual reminder of the Friars who used to frequent the area. Another reminder of this history is the sculpture of St Augustine by John Skeaping located on the wall of Augustine House.

Located on the site of the 13th-century Augustinian friary, the Dutch church is the oldest foundation of any foreign denomination in England, and the oldest foundation of any protestant denomination, whether English or foreign. It received its charter in 1550 from Edward VI when the nave of the Friary was retained and given for worship to London’s large Dutch Protestant community. 'So long a continuity of worship, and the early missionary work of its pioneering presbyterian community, has caused the church to be regarded as a `mother church' by Dutch Protestants in the Netherlands. The present building replaces the medieval one, bombed on 15-16 October 1940. The foundation stone of the new church was laid on 23 July 1950 by the ten year old Princess Irene of the Netherlands, symbolically commemorating the original foundation by the boy king Edward VI.'

'The Dutch Church is a good example of a London church built for an expatriot congregation, combining Dutch and English craftsmanship and commemorating their history together in the City. Arthur Bailey was a leading exponent of the refined English classical tradition which continued to develop through the 1930s and 1950s, and this is perhaps his finest work. The result of English, Dutch and South African patronage served to create one of the most lavish non-conformist churches to be built in England during the austere post-war years.'

In 1954 John Skeaping, assisted by Rita M. Ling, worked on the carvings on the Dutch Church. 'There are eight bosses. The three over the clerestory windows are approx. 90cm high. Those on the aisle wall and the porch are approx. 110cm high The boss above the foundation stone, on the Western section of the church's N. wall, represents The Dove of Peace arising from the Flames of War. On the E. wall of the N. porch, Richard, Earl of Arundel, who was beheaded and buried in the church, is shown replacing his head on his shoulders. The illustration of this legend was intended to symbolise "the rebuilding of the new church on the site of that which was similarly "beheaded"". Over the clerestory windows on the N.wall are "the seals of those protestant churches in the fatherland with which the Dutch Church in London has felt itself linked through the centuries". Reading from East to West, these are the Dutch protestant community in London itself in the period of its banishment (1553-1559), symbolised by a small sailing-ship with the banner of the Cross and the Christ monogram, then the Reformed Church of the Netherlands, represented by a woman showing the open bible to her child, next, the seal of the Mennonite Church, the Lamb of God standing before the Sun of Righteousness, and last, the seal of the Arminian Church, a Christ monogram with Alpha and Omega, signifying the beginning and the end. On the N. aisle wall, East of the porch, are three carvings emblematic of the Dutch Wars of Independence. From East to West, they are the medal of the "Beggars", with two clasped hands, the symbols of Unity and Loyalty, then in the centre the entwined symbols of faith, hope and love, and, finally, a portrait of the Stadholder William the Silent, with five arrows, representing the five provinces of the Netherlands. Royal Monograms (Esmond Burton) There are four of these, each being approximately 120cm high On the W. wall the monogram of George VI is at the centre, flanked to the left by that of Queen Juliana, and to the right by that of Queen Wilhelmina. Over the entrance to the church is the cypher of Edward VI. Weathercock (John Skeaping) Rather unusually for the City, this takes the classic form of a cock. Doors (John McCarthy) The enrichments consist of three pairs of roundels with remarkably naturalistic flowers, and one pair of fictive door-knockers or handles with the combined symbols of Faith, Hope and Love.' (

Some of the City’s most ravishing C20 stained glass is to be found here. 'On the main stair is Max Nauta’s (1896-1957) stained glass commemoration of the Glorious Revolution of 1689, when the Catholic James II of England was defeated and succeeded by his Protestant daughter, Mary II, and her Dutch husband and cousin, William III.

Both are depicted in sparkling stained glass that has a jewel-like, three dimensional quality, owing to Nauta’s use of small pieces of differently coloured glass as a substrate before painting. The huge west window is Nauta’s work also, with vivid royal portraiture, saints and heraldry.

There are handsome, traditional-style brass chandeliers and wall candelabra. On the south wall is a large tapestry depicting the ‘Tree of Life’ by Dutch artist Hans van Norden (b. 1915). It is a remarkable work, recombining traditional Biblical imagery with modernist/ classicising forms in pastel, not pale, colours.

The depiction of the stairway to heaven references the stair to the organ against the wall opposite.' (


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