John Constable:
Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Ground


Click on the picture to see an enlarged version.

  • Oil on canvas, 34 1/2 x 44 inches
  • 1824
  • Sudeley Castle

John Constable was a close personal friend of the Bishop of Salisbury and painted this picture of the cathedral at his specific request. By general consent, Salisbury is one of the loveliest cathedrals of the world, even though it has played no particularly important historical or ecclesiastical role. Thus, it is appropriate that it is most known because of the paintings of John Constable.

The Cathedral was built between 1220 and 1258 on the banks of the Avon river, when the former diocesan See of Old Sarum (founded by William the Conqueror) was moved. The church is unique in having been built in such a small time and under the care and direction of the original architect. The view from the river across a meadow is of the south side of the cathedral. The two graceful gothic windows are the Cathedral Chapter House, and the squat construction immediately behind the large tree in the foreground are England's first Cathedral Cloisters, built between 1263-1270.

The crowing glory of Salisbury, the soaring spire, was added between 1285 and 1300. It rises 404 above Salisbury plain, and is the tallest spire in England and the second tallest in Europe (after Ulm). Constable's painting catches the Cathedral on a hot summer afternoon, and it always comes as a shock to learn that the Bishop was displeased with the results. He did not like the suggestion of a thunder-storm about to break over the Cathedral.

Years later, at the Bishop's request, Constable painted another version. Click here to view that painting. Bishop Fisher and his wife can be seen at the left wearing that characteristic touch of red and viewing the cathedral.

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