Sir John Lavery Triptych – ‘Madonna of the Lakes’
Sir John Lavery was once the most famous portrait artist in the world and later an official Great War artist in 1914.
Returning home to North Belfast, Lavery painted the ‘Madonna of the Lakes’ triptych and gifted it in 1918 to the church in which he was baptised- St Patrick’s.
Our Research into Sir John Lavery Triptych – ‘Madonna of the Lakes’
The triptych is an image of delicate beauty and is alluring today. How much more it must have seemed in the industrial grime of wartime Belfast and an area dominated by factories? There was a large factory directly opposite St Patrick’s in 1919; and most parishioners worked in mills. But the story it tells is much broader than that. It speaks of pride in the achievements of the past and in a community rapidly transforming acts as a sign of continuity. Every parishioner knows the painting. It is important too because of the affirmation of the value of the church to which they feel powerful loyalty. St Patrick’s is the church of the largest settled population on Clifton and Donegall Streets and a living bond with the former inner-city Belfast of mill workers, labourers and dockers. It is a point of identity and reference physically and temporally.
The triptych also stands as a link connecting St Patrick’s and the locality to the once-dominant military tradition: the army had a large presence on North Queen Street for over a century – the area still called “the Barracks” – and the Connaught Rangers both recruited extensively in Belfast, were stationed there, worshipped in St Patrick’s and came to the Pro-Cathedral for a blessing before embarking for Flanders. Lutyens went on to design the Whitehall Cenotaph.
The Parish very much see the triptych as part of the patrimony of the City of Belfast of which they are the custodians – and not just a religious object or corporate possession. It – and the church in which it sits – is a focus of pride and identity. They tell the story of the faith experience and real lived experience of the poor of industrial Belfast – the inscape of their minds, what was important to them; what actually motivated them; their “optic”; and to what they felt loyalty. The huge church stands as a monument to the anonymous poor whose pennies built it. Most were buried in paupers’ graveyards and have no other physical memorials. The painting is by one of their number who was born here and whose achievements are a focus of pride. As an object of beauty which draws visitors and tourists it has great potential to act as one of the foci of reimagining the area.
For additional sources, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Lavery – Biographical information; https://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/yourpaintings/2012/08/the-glasgow-boy-from-belfast-s.shtml – Further biographical information; https://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2019/12/05/news/artist-who-rose-from-humble-beginnings-to-bestride-the-international-art-scene-like-a-colossus-honoured-at-north-belfast-c-1782707/ – Blue plaque recognition; John Lavery, The life of a painter (1940) – Lavery’s autobiography; https://saintpatricksbelfast.org.uk/our-parish/relic-of-st-patrick/ – Triptych background info