Cabinet Decorated with Scenes from ĎThe Prioressís Taleí

By Philip Webb and Burne-Jones

Gallery 56, Second Floor.

 


Focus on the Object

This cabinet, designed by Philip Webb and decorated by Burne-Jones, is made from oak and deal and painted in oil. Burne-Jones gave it to William Morris as a wedding present on his marriage to Jane Burden in 1859 - in the bottom left hand corner you can see the inscription ĎEJB to WMí.

The left hand door is decorated with episodes from Chaucerís Prioressís Tale (see below), together with the opening lines of the poem. The figure of the Virgin is modelled on Jane Burden, William Morrisís new wife. She appears again on the right hand door, above Chaucer himself. When the Morrises first married they lived in The Red House, Bexley Heath, where the cabinet stood in the principal bedroom. It was given to the Ashmolean Museum in 1939 by William Morrisís daughter, May.


The Prioressís Tale:

The Prioressís Tale, from Chaucerís Canterbury Tales, describes how a Christian boy, who learned to sing the hymn Alma Redemptoris at his school, was assassinated by Jews. However, the Virgin brought him back to life and placed a grain of corn upon his tongue; this allowed him to sing again and reveal the crime. You can see this story depicted on the cabinet; in the background he is singing in his school and in the foreground he is being brought to life by the Virgin. Both scenes feature the words ĎAlma Redemptorisí.