Illustration: Edward Burne-Jones. Angeli Laudantes tapestry design, 1898.
The Angeli Laudantes composition by Edward Burne-Jones was produced over a significantly long period from the 1870s into the twentieth century. It also appeared in a number of variations, two of which are shown in this article. It must also be remembered that this particular composition was technically part of a set, and that Angeli Ministrantes which will be covered by The Textile Blog at a later date, was considered to be its companion piece.
The Angeli Laudantes composition did not start out as a cartoon for a tapestry, but was in fact one of Burne-Jones earlier stained glass designs, produced for Morris & Co in 1878. The actual stained glass design was commissioned, along with Angeli Ministrantes, for a pair of lancet windows in the South Choir of Salisbury Cathedral. It is interesting that both Burne-Jones and Morris & Co saw nothing extraordinary in the multiplicity of design work, although stained glass and tapestry design are not specifically creatively or technically close. Although the finished tapestry, compared to the stained glass window is inevitably a toned down version, at least colour-wise, the two versions whether in glass or yarn, stayed relatively close compositionally, although the tapestry has been filled in with profuse and standard Morris & Co floral motifs.
There has always been some debate as to whether the original work on Angeli Laudantes of 1878 had been initially intended by Burne-Jones and William Morris for a tapestry, rather than a stained glass window. However, it seems more likely due to Morris & Co's original remit as a largely stained glass supplier that the secondary tapestry idea came much later. Although the figures were Burne-Jones originals, much of the surrounding foliage and border were supplied by Morris & Co. This means that they were designed by John Henry Dearle rather than Morris as he had died two years previous to the production of the initial tapestry in 1896.
Illustration: Edward Burne-Jones. Angeli Laudantes tapestry design, 1905.
There is a deal of difference between the truncated version of Angeli Laudantes seen here in colour and the much more detailed version shown in black and white. There is a whole extra layer beneath the angels with heraldic shields suspended, though conceivably entangled in foliage. There is also a wooded background and the two angels stand far enough apart from each other so that their wings do not touch, whereas in the colour version their wings overlap. It appears as if the colour version is indeed a truncated version of the two-tiered tapestry. However, the less detailed version is in fact the earlier, as the two tiered tapestry design was not produced, along with an equally two tiered Angeli Ministrantes, until 1905. They were particularly commissioned from Morris & Co and were to hang in Eton College Chapel as a memorial to those who had died in the Boer War.
Several Burne-Jones tapestries were engineered from the artists original stained glass design work, although the Angeli pair seemed to have been the most popular and therefore had the most diverse incarnations from the original stained glass cartoon original of 1878. Angeli Laudantes also appears to be creatively closer, though noticeably somewhat cruder, to Burne-Jones last great tapestry series, that of the Quest for the Holy Grail.
As with most of Burne-Jones tapestry work, these pieces were produced in close association with Morris & Co. It is perhaps a testament to the triangular relationship between Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and Morris & Co, that Angeli Laudantes was part of this sometimes complex relationship for over twenty years from the original stained glass cartoon of 1878 to the tapestry pieces produced in 1898. In fact, the relationship continued into the twentieth century when only one element of the triangular relationship was left. With the death of Morris in 1896, followed by Burne-Jones in 1898, Angeli Laudantes continued its creative journey with Morris & Co into the twentieth century.