Frank Cadogan Cowper

St Agnes in Prison Receiving from Heaven the ‘Shining White Garment’


On loan

Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum (Leamington Spa, UK): Modern Pre-Raphaelites Visionaries

Frank Cadogan Cowper 1877–1958
Tempera paint on canvas
Support: 743 × 451 mm
frame: 954 × 660 × 110 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1905

Display caption

This is a scene from the life of St Agnes, based on William Caxton’s fifteenth-century Golden Legend. At the age of thirteen Agnes rejected marriage and dedicated her life to God. She refused to renounce her vow of chastity and was stripped of her clothes and taken to a brothel. She prayed for divine intervention and her room was filled by a miraculous light. Her hair grew long, and a white robe appeared before her. This is Cowper the moment shown here.

Gallery label, July 2007

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Catalogue entry

Inscr. ‘F. C. Cowper 1905’ on column b.r.
Canvas, 29 1/4×17 3/4 (74×45).
Chantrey Purchase from the artist 1905.
Exh: R.A., 1905 (636).
Repr: Royal Academy Pictures, 1905, p.23.

A young Christian martyr in Rome, A.D. 304. The subject is taken from The Golden Legend, or Lives of the Saints as Englished by William Caxton: ‘And thus St Agnes that refused to do sacrifice to the idols, was delivered naked to go to the bordel, but anon as she was uncloathed God gave her such grace that the hairs of her head became so long that they covered all her body to her feet, so that her body was not seen. And when St Agnes entered into the bordel anon she found the Angel of God ready for to defend her, and environed St Agnes with a bright clearness in such wise that no man might see her ne come to her. Then made she of the bordel her oratory, and in making her prayers to God she saw tofore her a white vesture, and anon therewith she clad her and said: “I thank the Jesu Christ which accountest me with thy Virgins and hast sent me this vesture.”’

The background and setting are entirely imaginary. The sitter for St Agnes was Miss Janet Hird, then eighteen years old. She married Sidney Canton, an official of the National Provincial Bank, and sat for several other pictures by the artist. The figure of the angel was painted from Miss Gertrude Kidd, an actress. (Letter from the artist, 23 January 1956).

The style shows the influence of Ford Madox Brown.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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