A Great Work of Christian Symbolism
By Iris Conlay
LAND'S tapestry design for Coventry Cathedral, besides being a great work of art, is also an intricate piece of Christian symholism. The artist has chosen a familiar Byzantine theme of Christ in Glory. and then he has treated the theme in his own way which has released it from any danger of becoming a mere pastiche.
Accepting the framework of the traditional mandola inside which Christ is enthroned, Sutherland has then departed from the wholly formalised Christ and given us an almost realistic figure and a deeply human one which conveys a strong feeling of a presence much more than human.
The symbolism should be read from the top of the design where, from God Himself, grace falls upon the head of the resplendent Christ. At the foot of this towering figure, just between the feet, is a tiny man standing to attention, wailing as it were for orders. He is mankind himself, waiting for judgement—and to give scale to the work, remember, he is life-size.
BREAKING into the mandola, Sutherland has shown the chalice of the Precious Blood into which the serpent of evil is tieing drowned. and below the Crucifixion. the central event from which mankind's redemption has sprung, making it clear that from the darkness of that day (and the sun and moon are shown in swirling forms of contortion), Christ arose in the brilliance of the glory depicted above.
The symbols of the four evangelists—the four living creatures of the apocalypse—encircle the Throne, the first like a lion, the second like a calf, the third with a face like a man and the fourth like an eagle in flight.
These are clear. but I had to ask Professor Basil Spence. Coventry Cathedral's architect, what was meant by the winged figure thrusting out on the right. He told me that it was St. Michael driving out the devil—the cathedral is dedicated to St. Michael.
The tapestry is rich in colour: green predominating, the bands are golden, Christ's robe is brilliantly white, and much purple, crimson and blues thread through this superb design of dream-like reality.