Anthony D'Offay, London
Private collection, purchased in 1983.
London, Anthony D’Offay, December Exhibition, 1983, cat no.4
In 1921 David Jones converted to Roman Catholicism, and the importance of his faith is reflected in his many religious works. This scene can be found in numerous examples of Christian art illustrating the martyrdom of Saint Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, Syria.
In 107 A.D., during the reign of Emperor Trajan, the Bishop Ignatius, who refused to renounce the Christian faith, was sentenced to death. He was imprisoned in Rome, during which time he wrote seven epistles to the churches of Asia Minor offering instruction and guidance to Christian followers. It was in these letters that the term ‘Catholic’, describing the whole of the church, was first used. On 17 October 108 A.D., Ignatius became a martyr when he was devoured by wild beasts
in the Colosseum.
Jones first approached this subject, at his father’s suggestion, in a small watercolour dating from 1922. By 1927, his work had developed considerably, from a linear and primitive style to a more complex one. Martyrdom is a very complete and considered work in this sense; the entire image is filled with illustrative detail and colour. The approach to form is much freer and the lines are more fluid than in earlier works, creating a wealth of movement and action across the surface of this small picture. Jones challenges the traditional rules of perspective to create an alternative yet equally coherent understanding of space, which is conditioned by experience. In the foreground, for example, the metal fence appears incongruous against the back wall, yet it echoes the rhythm of the work perfectly, mimicking the movement of the lion as it goes in for the kill.
As Eric Gill mused:
‘We should miss the quality of his work if we did not see that it is a combination of two enthusiasms, that of the man who is enamoured of the spiritual world and at the same time as much enamoured of the material body in which he must clothe his vision.’ 1
1 Paul Hills, ‘The Art of David Jones’ from David Jones, Tate Gallery, London, exhibition catalogue, 1981, p19