Verses on Sir Joshua Reynold's Painted Window at New College, Oxford

Original Text: 
Thomas Warton Jr., Verses on Sir Joshua Reynolds's Painted Window at New College, Oxford (London: R. Dodsley, 1782). E-10 1822 Fisher Rare Book Library
2Those faultless forms of elegance and grace!
3Ah, cease to spread the bright transparent mass,
4With Titian's pencil, o'er the speaking glass!
5Nor steal, by strokes of art with truth combin'd,
6The fond illusions of my wayward mind!
8A faithless truant to the classic page;
9Long have I lov'd to catch the simple chime
10Of minstrel-harps, and spell the fabling rime;
11To view the festive rites, the knightly play,
12That deck'd heroic Albion's elder day;
13To mark the mouldering halls of barons bold,
14And the rough castle, cast in giant mould;
15With Gothic manners Gothic arts explore,
16And muse on the magnificence of yore.
17But chief, enraptur'd have I lov'd to roam,
18A lingering votary, the vaulted dome,
19Where the tall shafts, that mount in massy pride,
20Their mingling branches shoot from side to side;
21Where elfin sculptors, with fantastic clew,
22O'er the long roof their wild embroidery drew;
23Where Superstition with capricious hand
24In many a maze the wreathed window plann'd,
25With hues romantic ting'd the gorgeous pane,
26To fill with holy light the wondrous fane;
27To aid the builder's model, richly rude,
28By no Vitruvian symmetry subdu'd;
29To suit the genius of the mystic pile:
30Whilst as around the far-retiring aisle,
31And fretted shrines, with hoary trophies hung,
32Her dark illumination wide she flung,
33With new solemnity, the nooks profound,
34The caves of death, and the dim arches frown'd.
35From bliss long felt unwillingly we part:
36Ah, spare the weakness of a lover's heart!
37Chase not the phantoms of my fairy dream,
38Phantoms that shrink at Reason's painful gleam!
39That softer touch, insidious artist, stay,
40Nor to new joys my struggling breast betray!
41Such was a pensive bard's mistaken strain.--
42But, oh, of ravish'd pleasures why complain?
43No more the matchless skill I call unkind,
44That strives to disenchant my cheated mind.
45For when again I view thy chaste design,
46The just proportion, and the genuine line;
47Those native portraitures of Attic art,
48That from the lucid surface seem to start;
49Those tints, that steal no glories from the day,
50Nor ask the sun to lend his streaming ray:
51The doubtful radiance of contending dyes,
52That faintly mingle, yet distinctly rise;
53'Twixt light and shade the transitory strife;
54The feature blooming with immortal life:
55The stole in casual foldings taught to flow,
56Not with ambitious ornaments to glow;
57The tread majestic, and the beaming eye,
58That lifted speaks its commerce with the sky;
59Heaven's golden emanation, gleaming mild
60O'er the mean cradle of the Virgin's child:
61Sudden, the sombrous imagery is fled,
62Which late my visionary rapture fed:
63Thy powerful hand has broke the Gothic chain,
64And brought my bosom back to truth again;
66Whose universal pattern strikes mankind;
67To truth, whose bold and unresisted aim
68Checks frail caprice, and fashion's fickle claim;
69To truth, whose charms deception's magic quell,
70And bind coy Fancy in a stronger spell.
71Ye brawny Prophets, that in robes so rich,
72At distance due, possess the crisped niche;
73Ye rows of Patriarchs, that sublimely rear'd
74Diffuse a proud primeval length of beard:
75Ye Saints, who clad in crimson's bright array,
76More pride than humble poverty display:
77Ye Virgins meek, that wear the palmy crown
78Of patient faith, and yet so fiercely frown:
79Ye Angels, that from clouds of gold recline,
80But boast no semblance to a race divine:
81Ye tragic tales of legendary lore,
82That draw devotion's ready tear no more;
83Ye martyrdoms of unenlighten'd days,
84Ye miracles, that now no wonder raise:
85Shapes, that with one broad glare the gazer strike,
86Kings, bishops, nuns, apostles, all alike!
87Ye colours, that th' unwary sight amaze,
88And only dazzle in the noontide blaze!
89No more the sacred window's round disgrace,
90But yield to Grecian groups the shining space.
91Lo, from the canvas Beauty shifts her throne,
92Lo, Picture's powers a new formation own!
93Behold, she prints upon the crystal plain,
94With her own energy, th' expressive stain!
95The mighty master spreads his mimic toil
96More wide, nor only blends the breathing oil;
97But calls the lineaments of life complete
98From genial alchymy's creative heat;
99Obedient forms to the bright fusion gives,
100While in the warm enamel Nature lives.
101Reynolds, 'tis thine, from the broad window's height,
102To add new lustre to religious light:
103Not of its pomp to strip this ancient shrine,
104But bid that pomp with purer radiance shine:
106The willing Graces to the Gothic pile.


1] Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), the celebrated English portrait-painter, between 1769 and 1790 delivered to the students of the Royal Academy, of which he was the first president, a series of Discourses containing an admirable statement of the neo-classical theory of art. The west window of New College, Oxford, was inserted in 1782 from a design by Reynolds (with the painter himself as one of the shepherds on the left). Back to Line
7] Warton refers to his enthusiasm for and study of mediaeval and romantic literature and medieval remains. This is to be seen in many of his poems (e.g., the other sonnets in this selection) and gave rise to his Observations on the Faery Queen (1754), his History of English Poetry (1774-1781), his Description of Winchester (1750), etc. Back to Line
65] Cf. Reynolds' Discourses, III and IV. Back to Line
105] The reconciliation of the classic and the Gothic styles was an ideal of the mid-18th century. Cf. Collins' description of the temple of Liberty in his Ode to Liberty, 117-20. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1.688; RPO 1996-2000.