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Monday, 27 February 2017

Georg Mayer-Marton: work in churches has considerable religious significance

George Mayer-Marton (1897-1960) was born in Gyor, Hungary and served in the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War. From 1919 to 1924 he studied art in Vienna and Munich. He immigrated to England in 1938 to escape the threat of Nazi Germany.

Mayer-Marton studied the art of Byzantine (face) mosaic at Ravenna between the wars. Following his appointment at Liverpool College of Art in 1952, he received commissions from the Roman Catholic Church to carry out mosaic works at a number of churches in the area, as well as a commission for a font at the Anglican Church of St Michael and All Angels in Tettenhall, West Midlands. 

His abiding interest in music was reflected in his painting and mosaics, not only in subject matter but also in the chromatic use of colour, and the feeling for structure and form which characterize his landscapes. In 1957 all the different strands came together with the Pentecost Mosaic, amongst his finest work, now displayed at the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

The Pentecost mosaic was originally installed at the Church of the Holy Ghost in Ford, Liverpool and when the church was faced with demolition, a campaign was undertaken by the artist’s niece, Johanna Braithwaite, Robin Riley, Gordon Millar, Brian Drury and Sister Anthony Wilson of the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral to save it. The process, supervised by Robin Riley, was technically challenging. The mosaic was transferred to the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral in 1989.

The mosaic at the Church of the Holy Rosary is currently under threat following the decision of the Diocese of Salford to close the church. Catherine Pepinster, writing in The Observer, says, 'The arts heritage body, the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, has warned the bishop, the Right Rev John Arnold, that the mosaic’s destruction would be “a very regrettable loss, if not an act of iconoclasm”.

According to the association’s chairman, John Lewis, the √©migr√© artists of postwar Britain, of whom Mayer-Marton was a leading figure, are only now being appreciated by art historians. In a letter to Arnold, Lewis cited the Oldham mosaic as “an unusual commission … which must be preserved. Mayer-Marton’s work in churches during this period has considerable historic and religious significance.”

The eight-metre-high mosaic was installed in the church in the 1950s and is made of natural stone and glass tesserae, giving it a striking sheen, typical of Byzantine work. The original piece had frescoes depicting St John to Jesus’s left and his mother Mary to his right, but these were covered over with white emulsion in 1980.'

His great-nephew, Nick Braithwaite, who is campaigning to save the Oldham mosaic, said: “The mosaic is inspiring and beautiful and it dominates the church. It would be disastrous if it were lost, and would signal a dreadful failure to understand its unique value. We are urging the diocese to think again.

“My great-uncle, who was of Hungarian-Jewish descent, worked on this mosaic just 10 years after the war and losing his parents and brother in the Holocaust. It must have been very poignant for him to work on an image of the suffering Jesus.”'

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