Monday 2 May 2016

Hellenic Heroes in Lovely Lancashire

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. 

Medieval Holiday
Hirsute Tertullian
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. 

Robert Harris reading
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
But 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 book from my Classics & Class projectA 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.
Holiday's Sappho
Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston


  1. Not enough photo to go on here, Edith. Have you recorded the names separately?

    1. No! Because they are underneath the figures on top row and I couldn't get in close enough.

  2. Current ROM Acropolis "model shows the complex of buildings known as the Acropolis of Athens, as it was during the Athenian “Golden Age”, about 400 BC. It was made in Athens in the 1940s under the direction of G.P. Stevens of the American School of Classical Studies. Additions were made by Sylvia Hahn, working under the direction of J. Walter Graham at the ROM. Scale 1:200."
    However, ROM has the design sketches for the 3 windows by Holiday at UofT, see

  3. Thanks so much for this! The Holiday windows are wonderful. He had a great passion for ancient Egypt and it is nice to see his Egyptians doing so much cooking!

  4. Edith, I've been researching the Acropolis model in the ROM (the one currently on display), and I'm not sure it's the one about which Henry Holiday writes. It's my understanding that an original was created by Greek artists under Gorham Stevens' direction, and then a copy was made and donated to the ROM by W.C. Laidlaw (with additional copies sent to the Met and Cuba, of all places). Then additions/elaborations were made to the model by Sylvia Hahn (whom I've been researching). I've found Holiday's mention of this model on p. 308 of his memoirs, but I've found no mention of him in ROM publications related to their Acropolis model - see, for example, Phoenix 1960 (vol. 14, no. 3), 146-150. If you've found anything more to suggest that these two models are one and the same, I'd be much appreciative. Many thanks, Jacquelyn Clements.