On the way to address an impressively big audience at the UK’s newest branch of the Classical Association, founded in Lytham St. Anne’s a couple of years ago by the enterprising (and then only 17-year old) Katrina Kelly, I stopped off in a hailstorm at Preston. In the Harris Museum I stumbled across this jaw-dropping stained-glass window celebrating ancient Greek achievements in philosophy, science, art, literature, and riding horses bareback to the Parthenon.
I had heard of the artist, Henry Holiday, because I’ve done some research on women from classical history in British art. He painted Aspasia, Pericles’ intellectual girlfriend, sitting on the Pnyx Hill where the Athenian Assembly met. But I didn’t know, until The Best Window in Britain sent me scurrying off to read his memoirs, that Holiday was a sterling supporter of women’s suffrage (which explains the significance of the Pnyx).
|Holiday's Aspasia on the Pnyx|
He was a colourful character. He also campaigned for Irish independence, socialism and dress reform. He believed that sartorial uniformity was destroying homo sapiens and that we should all wear different clothes. He personally liked to wear an outfit of medieval chain-mail.
For years he kept a cast of Praxiteles’ Hermes and an enormous model of the Acropolis he'd constructed for himself in his studio. The latter, he says, he sold to the Royal Ontario Museum: Toronto readers, is it still on display there?
He had an intense relationship with all the many hundred figures he portrayed in stained glass in churches, town halls and universities in the USA as well as Britain. The clean-shaven patristic writer Tertullian, whom he designed for Trinity College, Cambridge, had to be revised when a friend told him that the worthy Church Father thought shaving was effeminate.
Holiday’s Greek window was commissioned in 1905 by the Harris Museum, founded in memory of the longstanding Headmaster of Preston Grammar School, the Reverend Robert Harris. He was the upwardly mobile son of a ‘goods carrier’. He had read a few classics books himself.
|Homer with line 1 of the Iliad|
The lowest panel portrays Sappho, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Homer. The middle panel, with its Greek inscription The Great Panathenaea, is a vivid rendition of some Parthenon horsemen.
|The classics-mad GCSE Drama set from Lancashire Technology College|
I need help on the top panel (thinkers and artists) because my arms couldn’t hold my camera high enough to include all the names. I think the information on display has got some of the names against the wrong figures and that Aristotle, of whom I’m collecting portraits, is actually second from the left at the top. There is no guide book available offering any discussion.
|Which Sage is Which?|
Entrance to the Harris is free. If anyone in the north-west taller than I am can get a good photo of the top panel, with all the names, I would be grateful.
I want to discuss it in my forthcoming A People’s History of Classics, co-authored with Henry Stead, which has been accepted by Routledge under their Gold Open Access scheme and will be made available, entirely free, online. This is only appropriate for a study addressing the historic exclusion of the working class from intellectual property. But I need a good image of Holiday’s top panel! You will be warmly thanked in the caption.