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Powys Evans and Our Lady of Sorrows

Powys Evans (1899–1981) is perhaps best known as a caricaturist and cartoonist, and as a portrait artist. The National Portrait Gallery alone is home to more than fifty examples of his work. Several of his subjects (or, even, in some cases, victims!) were prominent in Welsh artistic and cultural life, or contributed to it. These include “The Tramp Poet” W.H.Davies (NPG 4396, pen & ink, c.1922), the sculptor Jacob Epstein (NPG 4397, pen & ink, published 1925), and the writer Theodore Powys (NPG 4461, pen & ink, 1929).

Rather less well known is a painting, now in the Lady Chapel of the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, Dolgellau, based upon and inspired by a work of the Flemish renaissance artist, Adriaan Isenbrant (c.1490–1551) of Bruges, who had been, it is believed, a pupil of Gerard David.

The Church of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows

The story of the building of this church is a remarkable one. The church is the realized vision of Fr Francis Scalpell, the Maltese priest who served Dolgellau from 1939 until his death in 1970. Work began on the church in 1963, to the designs of Maurice Pritchard – an impressive, rugged, interpretation of Romanesque – and it was opened for worship in 1966.

Interior of the Church. Crucifix on the extreior of the church.

Fr Scalpell (his family name was, in fact, Scalpello) was a musician, and also greatly interested in the visual arts, and these passions are reflected in the remarkable collection of artwork in the church, ranging from stained glass through metalwork and painting. The hanging Rood was the work of Fr Scalpell’s brother, and the crucifix on the exterior wall, above the principal entrance, was executed by Professor Castiglione of Milan. Fr Scalpell was an organist, and one of the windows depicts St Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, at the keyboard.

More about the building of the church

The Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The imagery of the Seven Sorrows is taken from the Bible, and mainly from the gospel narratives. In order they are: 1. The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2 verses 25–35); 2. The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2 verses 13–15); 3. The loss of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2 verses 41–50); 4. Mary meets Jesus carrying the cross (inspired by Luke 23 verses 27–29); 5. The crucifixion (John 19 verses 25–27); 6. Mary receives the dead body of her Son (inspired by Psalm 130); and 7. The burial of Jesus and the closing of the tomb (Luke 23 verses 50–56).

The Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, painting by Powys Evans.

The Painting

Powys Evans has reproduced Isenbrant’s composition, with the central figure of Mary, surrounded by the depictions of the Seven Sorrows. These, as outlined above, are not to be confused with the Five Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary – the Agony in the Garden; The scourging of Jesus; the crowning with thorns; the carrying of the cross; and the crucifixion – though the two sets of devotional imagery, both inspired by the gospel narratives, do overlap. Isenbrant is a relatively unknown artist, and here Evans’ interpretation has given it a fitting home in a church whose dedication is inspired by the devotion which in its turn inspired the original painting.


John Morgan-Guy
September 2006

 

Imaging the Bible in Wales Database

Mary with depictions of the Seven Sorrows, painting by Powys Evans.Powys Evans, Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, c.1966, detail, from the Church of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, Dolgellau.