Monday, 19 June 2017
The High Altar in the apse at St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork rests on a mosaic floor designed by William Burges. Crustaceans, molluscs and amphibians in mosaic form share the space with artisans, scholars and parfait knights. The initial inspiration for this piscatorial fantasy came from St. Matthew, “.... the kingdom of Heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea and gathered of every kind”. There’s a useful account of the mosaics in J Mordaunt Crook’s William Burges and the High Victorian Dream – Crook is well disposed toward the mosaics but clearly regards them as a minor aspect of Burges’s achievement. Crook tells how they were manufactured in 1877 by Burke & Co. in Paris by a team of Italian craft-workers from Udine using Pyrenean marble fragments. The imagery has a light and playful character that is not something routinely found in a High Anglican place of worship but one of Burges’s many redeeming features was an appetite for fun and a liking for puns. The latter inspired him to include bobbing corks (unfortunately not visible in this selection) in his aquatic fantasia.