Object Image

George Herbert at Bemerton

The metaphysical/devotional poet George Herbert is remembered for the purity and effectiveness of his verse. Herbert was a key figure of 17th century literature, born in Wales, who began life as an academic in Cambridge and took Holy Orders in 1630. He obtained the small living at Bemerton, a village on the Avon near Salisbury, and there wrote the poems which he said presented "a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed between God and my soul."

In 1860 the rector of the parish of Bemerton was the artist's friend, whom Dyce visited and painted this picture of Herbert in the garden, with its view across the water meadows to Salisbury Cathedral. Herbert was an accomplished musician, and the lute leaning against the bench may also symbolise the lyricism of his verse. The fishing tackle recalls Izaak Walton, whose book The Compleat Angler in 1653 included this quotation from Herbert's poem Virtue:

Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,

The bridal of the earth and sky,

The dews shall weep thy fall tonight,

For thou must die.

No. 660

Bequeathed by Charles Gassiot, 1902

Oil on canvas
105.0 x 132.0 x 10.0 cm
Image and text © Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London, 2022

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