Screen of Edward the Confessor
Colour aquatint1 March 1812
About the work
Edward, called the ‘Confessor’, was born at Islip in Oxfordshire between 1002 and 1005, the son of King Ethelred 'the Unready' and Emma of Normandy. Driven from England by the Danes, and spending his exile in Normandy, the story goes that Edward vowed that if he should return safely to his kingdom, he would make a pilgrimage to St Peter's, Rome. But once on the throne he found it impossible to leave his subjects, and the Pope released him from his vow on condition that he should found or restore a monastery to St Peter. This led to the building of a new church in the Norman style to replace the Saxon church at Westminster. The Abbey at Westminster was consecrated on Holy Innocents' Day, 28th December 1065, but the king was ill and unable to be present at the service. He was regarded as a saint long before he was officially canonised as Saint and Confessor by Pope Alexander III in February 1161. A Confessor is a particular type of saint. The term applies to those who suffered for their faith and demonstrated their sanctity in the face of worldly temptations, but who were not martyrs.
This aquatint prints illustrates Edward the Confessor’s Screen in Westminster Abbey in London. One of the great architectural features of London, the Abbey was founded in 616. Much of the current building was constructed between 1245 and 1517. However, the most recognisable features – the western towers designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor – were built from 1722 to 1745.
The illustration is taken from The History of the Abbey Church of St Peter’s Westminster, its Antiquities and Monuments, a two-volume work published by Rudolph Ackermann. The exhaustively comprehensive work was first published in 16 monthly parts from 1811 to 1812. The text accompanying the illustrations was by the writer and literary imitator William Combe, who worked closely with the staff of artists.
About the artist
Frederick Mackenzie trained as a pupil of architect John Adey Repton. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy at 16 and soon afterwards began working for antiquary and topographer John Britton, illustrating Britton’s publications. From 1813, he exhibited his work at the Society of Painters in Watercolours, showing 97 paintings there in total. His early exhibits were almost exclusively views of Oxford and Cambridge Colleges, while later exhibits were mainly English churches and cathedrals. He was elected a member of the Society in 1823 and served as its Treasurer from 1831. He also continued to illustrate books, three of which he published. In his 50s he married Mary Hine, a widow. He died at their home, near Regent’s Park, aged about 65.