From the Victorian period onwards, it became the norm for artists to sign their work. At first this was mostly a matter of provenance, but increasingly it symbolised the idea that a work of art was more than just itself – it was also a reflection of the genius of the person who made it.
The custom was picked up in the stained-glass field by many Arts & Crafts Movement makers, who felt that, though a window is the product of many hands, theirs was the foremost mind that made the window what it was. Even Margaret Rope’s cousin and fellow stained-glass maker Margaret Edith Rope adopted the idea.
Yet, during her whole career, Margaret Agnes Rope only ever tagged one of her windows.
It wasn’t that Marga didn’t have a monogram or rebus.
Early in her career, we see a monogram: it features on a woodcut from which were printed family Christmas cards, probably made sometime shortly after 1901. A later version crops up as a tag on one of her glass-making tools (date unknown), and then finally in 1913, on a window at Blaxhall Church.
Arthur Rope, who has carried out an exhaustive study of Marga’s works, says he believes the Blaxhall window is the only occasion when she identified a piece of work as her own.
Obviously, Marga had a symbol near to hand on which she could pun her name (a ‘rebus’) which she could use as identification – in her case, a rope. Sure enough, a rope is pointedly in the tracery of the roundels series she did for Tyburn Convent (1912).
There are many other ropes in her works of course. However, it’s difficult with them to be sure they are not just a necessary part of the scene.
So why, bearing in mind that she had the example of her fellow practitioners and already had designed her monogram and used it, did she not carry on ‘signing’ her windows after 1914, only three years after entering on a professional career?
It has already been noted on this website that Marga’s deep religious leanings appeared to make her very wary of the sin of pride.
It also seems true that she was very private (shy?), and simply felt happier out of the limelight. Self-effacement seems to have even infringed on her professional outlook.
Did she therefore decide that signing her work, even indirectly through a rebus, was too much both for her faith and her personality?
Later of course, she was actually ordered not to sign her work.
After she became a nun in 1923 – but continued to produce stained-glass – it was part of the Carmelite code to refuse acclamation, and to choose the greatest possible humility.
We know this specifically, because in one letter from Marga to her brother, Father Harry, she asked him not to mention in public that she had made a particular window – as her Mother Prioress said her work had to be anonymous.
And anonymous she became.
It is curious to think that if only she had not chosen to make her works, and her life in fact, so hidden in anonymity, she would be so much more well-known today.
If you’d like to add your thoughts on this posting, please use the Comments box below