Cecilia lived in Rome around 230 AD. She is famous for taking a lifelong vow of chastity which she kept despite her enforced marriage. She converted her husband to Christianity and both suffered martyrdom. In medieval times, a misreading of her Acts led to her connection with church music and when the Academy of Music was established at Rome in 1584, she was adopted as its patroness. Her saint’s day is celebrated on 22 November.
This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1895, with a quotation from Tennyson’s ‘The Palace of Art’:
‘In a clear walled city on the sea. Near gilded organ pipes – slept St. Cecily’.
A reviewer in The Art Journal wrote:
in St Cecilia, the important work which represents nearly two years unremitting toil and experiment, the aim is wholly decorative, the colour superb, and the painting swift and direct; that of a man who has reached his goal. The feeling is entirely medieval… The effect is decorative first, then somewhat ecclesiastic; entirely removed from realism and the world of our daily life.’
This painting was auctioned in June 2000 and fetched a world-record price for a Victorian painting.