St. Paul

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The Life of St. Paul

St. Paul
Article Image
St Paul's Life
Artist Attributed to Sir James Thornhill
Location St. Paul's Cathedral, London


St. Paul's Cathedral's dome displays a set of paintings from Sir James Thornhill, who was commissioned to provide them in a monochrome style, illustrating the life of St. Paul about three hundred years ago. Saint Paul is one of the most important and influential of all the saints. Many of his writings are contained in the Canon of the Bible and have influenced the growth and development of the Church since the first century. St. Paul is the patron saint of missionaries, evangelists, writers, journalists, authors, public workers, rope and saddle makers, and tent makers. His feast day is on June 29 when he is honored with Saint Peter, although he is also honored on other days throughout the year, January 25, for his conversion, February 16, for his shipwreck, and Nov. 18 for the dedication of his Basilica.[1]


We know from Sir Christopher Wren's son that the architect had always intended that the interior of his dome be decorated with mosaics. "For this purpose he had projected to have procured from Italy four of the most eminent artists in that profession; but as this art was a great novelty in England... it did not receive the encouragement it deserved."- Parentalia.[2] So then was when Sir James Thornhill was commissioned to provide monochrome paintings about the life of St. Paul. Thornhill was chosen because, besides his great talent, he fulfilled the characteristics of being a protestant and an English man, which were crucial in this decision. He painted in a style that mimicked rock sculpture which added a fantastic sense of dimension to his artwork and satisfied the conservative political committee of that time. This mainly because they were afraid that the paintings would look ostentatious or too similar to colorful catholic churches.The committee in charge of the project, which was headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and whose other members were ecclesiastics and other professionals appointed by the monarch, had been deliberating the matter since April 1708. The French artist Laguerre (1663-1721) is said to have begun painting, only for work to be halted a month later. Then, in 1709, an open competition was announced. By 1710 the field had narrowed to two contestants, Thornhill and the Venetian, Pellegrini (1675-1741), but no immediate decision was taken.[3]

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