The Burne-Jones Triptych
In 1861 Fr Wagner commissioned the nineteen-year-old Edward Burne-Jones, who was living in Rottingdean at the time, to paint a picture go go behind the High Altar of S Paul’s.
A picture in this position is called a reredos. It was painted in three parts, so is a triptych.
The theme is the Incarnation of Jesus. On either side were the two participants of the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel on the leeft and the Blessed Virgin on the right. This is the start of the story of the Incarnation.
The subject in the centre was the Adoration of the Magi, when Mary presented the Infant Jesus to the Gentiles, represented by the Wise Men. This event comes at the end of the Christmas season.
Burne-Jones was young and not yet a successful leader of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, although this triptych, his first commissioned work, shows all the promise of his later years. He could not afford the best paints and the student’s mixture of oils has made the cleaning and maintenance of this picture a scholar’s nightmare.
For many years the triptych graced the High Altar of S Paul’s but in 1977 it was lent to the Brighton Museum, when the church could no longer afford to insure it against theft.
In 1994 it was sold at Sotheby’s to a private buyer. The proceeds went towards the restoration of the tower.