William Morris and the Oxford union murals
Socki, G. Joseph
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The project to decorate the interior of the Oxford Union Society’s Debating Hall was suggested by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1857. The building’s architect, Benjamin Woodward, was enthusiastic at the proposition, since it would enhance the structure’s medieval style, one based on John Ruskin’s recently published Stones of Venice. William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, former Oxford undergraduates, aided Rossetti in his attempt at medieval "fresco" painting. The Union project was not successful, but for the career of Morris, it was a turning point. His design for the decoration of the ceiling led him to a career in the decorative arts, one which allowed him to pursue his particular philosophy of the artist/craftsman in his role as the co-founder and manager of the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company, later renamed Morris and Company. The Firm provided Morris with the opportunity to re-create the atmosphere of a medieval workshop, an idea that was initially developed in the construction and decoration of Morris’s Red House but ultimately was based on his earlier experiences at Oxford and the Union project. This thesis will show the connection between Morris’s founding of the Firm and his work on the Oxford Union Murals, a relationship that is seldom, if ever, mentioned in the many biographies and essays written on Morris. It will examine the painting, prose, and poetry produced by Morris in the years 1857- 1861, demonstrating that his romantic vision of the medieval artist/craftsman was a constant source of inspiration. This thesis will also look at other influences on Morris during his Oxford years, including the literature of the Arthurian Romances, the philosophy of John Ruskin, and the art of the Pre-Raphaelites, all of which had a profound impact on the formation of Morris’s own interpretation of the medieval spirit. These various influences coalesced with his work at Oxford and formed the basis later for the founding of the Firm.