It seems to be clear that Marga felt some affection for the area of her birth & upbringing – at least if that can judged by the number of times depictions of it crop up in her work.
If you care to look for them, behind the antique saints and sacred scenes can be seen sights and views of modern Shrewsbury as well as the landscape of the Shropshire countryside…
Those who can tell one hill from another are absolutely convinced that the Shropshire hills crop up in her work more than once – most recognisably in her St Winifrede window in Newport (which shows Caer Caradoc) and in the background of the Visitation Window in Shrewsbury Cathedral (which, says Fr Phillips in his monograph, “looks suspiciously like the Stretton Hills”).
Meanwhile, above St Oswald (in the Shrewsbury Cathedral West Window) are, quite clearly: the walls and spires of Shrewsbury town, one of the town’s bridges, and its Abbey Tower.
Indeed, one of the main themes of this West Window in Shrewsbury Cathedral is its celebration of saints & martyrs associated with the county of Shropshire.
In the window we see not just St Winifrede and St Oswald – both claimed by Shropshire – but also two Reformation-era martyrs who were locally born – Blessed Robert Johnson (who was executed for his faith in 1582), and his contemporary Edward Campion (who was born in Ludlow in south Shropshire).
Old London/Shrewsbury Town
There is less clear evidence perhaps for the belief that Marga drew on the cobbled back-lanes of Shrewsbury as inspiration for her depictions of sixteenth-century London (which can be seen in her Martyrs Roundels series at Tyburn Convent).
However, why not? There is enough of a likeness to mean that the theory cannot be dismissed!
Jennifer Farlow, author of the Guide To Shrewsbury St Marys, even speculates that the background buildings in the Tyburn roundels can still be identified with ones in Shrewsbury Square and in Wyle Cop (a well-known Shrewsbury street), and one may even be Abbots House (in Shrewsbury’s Butcher Row) …. though with some artistic licence!
Other commentators see Shrewsbury’s Fish Street in the roundels – particularly the St John Roberts roundel.
Interestingly, these depictions of Shropshire scenes come early in her career – when the memory of them, one supposes, was still fresh.
While Margaret Rope is hardly unique as an artist in including recognisable modern backgrounds in ostensibly ‘historical’ scenes, she is actually quite unusual for her own time in doing it.
One might speculate that she saw herself returning to the outlook of the great Renaissance painters who did it as a matter of course.
Or (quite the opposite!) that she saw a blending of current sights with ancient sacred stories as a deliberate, ‘Arts & Crafts Movement’-type response to the twentieth century – i.e. an injection of the real present-day into the imaginative past-time.
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