Joseph Mallord William Turner
The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons
Oil on Canvass

The Houses of Parliament are ablaze on the far side of the River Thames at Westminster Bridge, with spectators jamming the embankment in the riverside foreground.

You are hypnotised by the dazzling spectacle, awe-struck and transfixed despite the danger you know is proximate.

Turner 2

Turner uses amber, marmalade and bronze hues to draw you to the great fire. This unmistakable focal point is emphasised by the shadowy palette of the crowd and neutral white of the bridge connecting the two. The hazy obscurity of the blaze and Houses of Parliament engulfed by it, as well as the billowing smoke, add poetic atmospherics to the view. You feel you are witnessing the momentous yet the visual ambiguity places you beyond it. It’s a study in the diffusion of blazing light in the top left and glow at the margins.

Though eyewitness to the event, the artist transports us beyond the literal. The people are gathered. The institutions which represent them are in peril. A metaphorical bridge connecting the two tapers to nothing in the glare of the fiery light. The artist suggests a social destruction and collapse. There’s a sense of witnessing loss and passing of an era.

In 1834 London as today throughout the Anglosphere, we are in danger of losing our cherished institutions. We seem to bear witness helplessly and merely watch the blaze. Yet we know these Houses of Parliament, rebuilt and revivified with determination, became the centre of the world.

Today’s challenge and opportunity lies similarly before us.

4 thoughts on “Ablaze

    1. The institution was rebuilt, as we Christians rebuild ourselves daily with our acts.

      I read this: https://anglicanrose.blog/2018/06/11/burkitt-on-family-religion/. Thank you. Is SPG still current?

      The caption under the first photo could be me talking to my children about Luke 17:20-21. It therefore resonated and is current for me. I’m also a former vestryman, son, grandson and nephew of Anglican clergymen.

      You and I have much to be grateful for. We both express that, whether for your specialist Anglican Rose audience, or for my general The Thinking WASP audience.

      I’m now following Anglican Rose.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, SPG/SPCK is still around but as a CoE organ its been gutted and corrupted. However, you can find some very good historical research by SPCK that’s forty to sixty years old. I am moved that you’ve kept the faith of forefathers. I discovered my descent from Thomas Bartlett, a Quaker who moved to Maryland in 1670. That said, always interested in how the national church attempted to comprehend dissenting groups, and I think it still a unfinished work, especially in America. For Quakers, it was accepting aspects of their cultural life while retaining the CoE doctrine, I think. Anyway, thanks TWASP!

        Liked by 1 person

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