One of nearly thirty versions of a window designed by Burne-Jones and executed by the company founded by William Morris (1834–1896), Saint Cecilia is a product of the Arts and Crafts movement they initiated. Friends at Oxford, Morris and Burne-Jones became disciples of John Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelite movement and put into practice his vision for the renewal of art. They sought to counter the effects of the machine age by reviving medieval crafts, abolishing distinctions between fine and decorative arts, and beautifying objects of everyday life. Morris wrote on the philosophy of art and founded a company to execute textiles, wallpaper, and other objects, while Burne-Jones, in addition to painting and sculpting, studied with the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and designed murals, tapestries, and stained glass for Morris’s company.
The Gothic Revival style in architecture created a market for stained glass, especially in the 1870s, when Burne-Jones was a particularly prolific designer of windows. The first Saint Cecilia window, at Christ Church, Oxford (1875), shows the influence of the early Renaissance art he had seen in central Italy, most recently in 1871. The flat, abstracted, linear style and the wilting pose of the impossibly tall, graceful woman make reference to the work of Botticelli (Florentine, ca. 1445–1510), while the tapestry-like screen of pomegranate trees and fruits and the richly patterned brocade fabric recall the latest Gothic phase of Italian art, about 1400.
Saint Cecilia, an early Christian Roman virgin martyr, became the patron saint of music and was portrayed with an organ — here, a portable organ of the fifteenth century. Although water organs existed in the ancient world, pipe organs date from the fourteenth century, so we must assume Cecilia is singing the praises of God in heaven, not during her earthly life. In the window at Christ Church, she is flanked by lancet windows with music-making angels; scenes from the life of a fellow martyr saint, Valerian, and her own martyrdom are shown below. In Chicago, a Saint Cecilia window was included in the stained glass of the Second Presbyterian Church (1904); there, the fabric behind the saint is blue, and the tree bears lemons, demonstrating the permutations that could occur among these windows.
This window is the result of a collaboration between the Pre-Raphaelite painter Burne-Jones and the firm founded by William Morris, who initiated the English Arts and Crafts movement. Burne-Jones and Morris were inspired by the writings of John Ruskin as well as the anti-academic, anti-industrial views of the artists known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Ruskin argued for a return to the methods of medieval craftsman, which he deemed more honest, ethical, and democratic than the mechanical processes of the Industrial Revolution. The Pre-Raphaelites favored handmade crafts and imagery drawn from nature. Burne-Jones’s designs were used for numerous Saint Cecilia windows even after his death. Cecilia changes only slightly from one window to another, but the colors and backgrounds vary. The original location of the Museum’s window is unknown but might have been a dining room or entertainment space where the musical motif would have been suitable.
Princeton University Art Museum: Handbook of the Collections, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Art Museum, 2013).
Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton University Art Museum: Handbook of the Collection, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007).
"Acquisitions of the Art Museum 1974", Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 34, no. 1 (1975): p. 22-30.