The saintly sight of Cardinal Newman

18 October 2019

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories

It’s a miracle! In fact, it’s two – meaning that John Henry Newman has become the first British person to be declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church for almost half a century. The cardinal fulfilled the second of the necessary quota of miraculous acts last year, by curing the unstoppable bleeding of a woman in Chicago, more than a century after he was buried in Birmingham.

Ahead of the Pope’s announcement, a new portrait of Newman was unveiled earlier this year at Birmingham Oratory. Showing a gentle, pious man, features flush with a numinous radiance, it is very much of a piece with most depictions of Newman in his later years.

Most, but by no means all. Under his pseudonym of ‘Spy’, Leslie Ward couldn’t resist his chance, in 1877, to present Newman as a rather staid old cove in the pages of Vanity Fair.

Men of the Day, No. 145, ’Tracts for the times‘ (1877), Leslie Ward, first published in Vanity Fair

Men of the Day, No. 145, ‘Tracts for the times’ (1877), Leslie Ward, first published in Vanity Fair

Ward later enlarged upon the story behind his caricature of Newman. Spying the great man enter a buffet at Euston station, he quickly took a table opposite, and ‘studied him closely while he partook’ of his soup. Not satisfied that he had ‘caught’ him sufficiently, however, Ward hopped on a train to Birmingham the next day, and called at the oratory to ask one of the priests ‘at what time the Cardinal was likely to go out’. But all did not go according to plan; the priest darted inside to collect the holy gentleman, assuming that Spy was after a tête-à-tête. Ward continues: ‘My object had been to perfect my former study by a further glimpse; and a personal interview was really the last thing I desired. There was accordingly nothing left for me but to bolt!’

Rakewell can only imagine the look on Newman’s face, arriving downstairs and opening the oratory door on to thin air. Enough to try the patience of a saint, you might say.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.

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