David Jones

Exiit Edictum


Not on display

David Jones 1895–1974
Graphite and gouache on paper
Support: 406 × 330 mm
Purchased 1980

Display caption

Nicolete Gray was the daughter of Laurence Binyon, poet and Keeper of Oriental Art at the British Museum. She studied medieval history and in 1932 began the life long research into lettering which led to her becoming a leading historian and teacher of this subject and herself a lettering artist. In 1936, she organised a contemporary art exhibition 'Abstract and Concrete'. This included work by Ben Nicholson, Hepworth and Moore, but also introduced to the British public the work of foreign abstract artists such as Calder, Gabo, Giacometti, Kandinsky, Miró and Mondrian. Nicolete Gray enjoyed a long and fruitful friendship with David Jones. She wrote a monograph on his inscriptions in 1981 and a book on his paintings in 1989. Large painted inscriptions were an important part of Jones's later work, beginning around 1943. The Latin texts that Jones has chosen here refer to Christmas. 'Exiit Edictum' comes from the account of Christ's birth in St Luke's Gospel, and the separate line of 'Iam Redit Apollo' comes from Virgil's Fourth Eclogue, which Christian writers believed prophesied Christ's birth. Nicolete Gray stated that this inscription is innovatory in two ways; firstly that Jones's preferred coloured background and wax crayon technique have been replaced by letters in different colours on white paper; and secondly Jones introduces here his practice of combining fragments from different texts, so as to give visual form to a complex of inter-related meaning.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘EXIIT.EDICT/VM.A.CæSAR/E. AVGVSTO./ET.PEPERIT./FILIVM.SV/VM. PRIMO/GENITVM./ET.RECLINAVIT./EVM. IN PRæSEPIO./ET. HOC. VOBIS.SIGNVM’ in ten lines, and, vertically at left, reading from bottom to top and continuing along top line ‘I AM. REDIT. APOLLO. IAM. REDIT. ET. VIRGO.’
Inscribed on reverse ‘Return to David Jones, Northwick Lodge, Harrow on the Hill (made c.1950 as a Christmas Greetings)’
Gouache and pencil on paper, 16 × 13 (40.7 × 32.9)
Purchased from Anthony d'Offay Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) 1980
Exh: David Jones, Arts Council of Great Britain Welsh Committee, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, July–August 1954 and tour to Cardiff, Swansea and Edinburgh (92, as ‘The Gospel for the Midnight Mass of Christmas, with an adaptation of lines from the Fourth Eclogue of Virgil’); David Jones, Watercolours and Drawings, MacRobert Centre Gallery, University of Stirling, October–November 1976 (27, repr.); David Jones Inscriptions, Anthony d'Offay, October–November 1980 (9, repr.); David Jones, Tate Gallery, July–September 1981 (148)
Lit: Nicolete Gray, The Painted Inscriptions of David Jones, 1981, no.19, pp.18, 30, repr.p.54 in colour
Repr: David Jones, The Anathemata, 1952, facing p.219

Large, painted inscriptions with favourite texts (not his own writings) were an important part of David Jones's later work, beginning from about 1943. In many of these, quotations from different authors are put together often, as here, wholely in Latin, but sometimes in a collection of English, Latin, Welsh or other languages. This one is an early example, the nineteenth of the 64 catalogued by Nicolete Gray in order of date. Most of these were made for occasions such as birthdays, and this is the second made for Christmas, following the ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo’ of 1948. In T03192 the texts are straightforward references to Christmas: the account of the Nativity in St Luke's gospel and a celebrated line from Virgil which was believed by medieval and later Christian writers to be a prophecy of the birth of Christ.

The artist's translation is written on the reverse of a photograph of the inscription which was sent to Helen Sutherland in 1949 (Tate Gallery archive, gift of Nicolete Gray). David Jones dated it ‘MCMXLIX’ on the front, and on the reverse wrote

* Gaudeamus

in red crayon, and, after a greeting dated ‘Fri 23rd Dec. 49’, added 'P.S. The lettering is from the 1st Mass of Xmass, Gospel, beginning: “A decree went out from Caesar Augustus ... She brought forth her first-born son and laid him in a manger... and this shall be a sign to you”. And the lettering round the edge is from Virgil's 4th Eclogue: “Apollo returns and the Virgin returns”.

'I wish it looked more gay - it was done in colours, more or less, but the photograph has lost most of the feeling’. The text of Virgil is in fact ‘Iam regnat Apollo’ rather than ‘I am redit Apollo’, but the two phrases to Apollo and the Virgin are often paired.

After sending photographs of the inscription to friends for Christmas 1949, David Jones used it as one of seven inscriptions illustrating his poem The Anathemata, published in 1952. Here it appears in the section titled ‘Mabinog's Liturgy’, opposite a description of a Christmas midnight Mass in Roman Britain, in which parts of both texts in T03192 are included.

The innovation in style of this inscription is described by Nicolete Gray in the catalogue of the 1981 exhibition at the Tate Gallery: ‘This inscription marks the beginning of a new phase in two ways. The coloured background and wax crayon technique are replaced by letters in different colours on white paper, heightened with white paint: this became the artist's regular technique, growing more finished and more elaborate in later years. Secondly, the artist here introduces his practice of combining fragments from different texts. This is really integral to his approach to these inscriptions. They give visual form to a complex of inter-related meaning. Typical here is the turning of the P of Apollo into the Christian Chi-rho symbol, echoing the interpretation of Virgil's line as a prophecy of the birth of Christ (a common medieval interpretation)’. (David Jones, Tate Gallery, 1981, p.130, cat.no.148).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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