Cross and case
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Presented by Geoffrey and Caroline Munn through the Art Fund
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Whitelands College in Chelsea was established as a Christian college to train women as teachers in the Anglican National Schools. The ceremony of crowning a May Queen first took place in 1881 and has continued every year since then. The ceremony was designed by the writer John Ruskin who took particular interest in the design of the gold cross given to each year's Queen. This cross was designed by the artist Arthur Severn, who was married to Ruskin's cousin. It was presented to Emma Hands in 1893, the 13th Ruskin May Queen by Baroness Burdett Coutts.
The choice of hawthorn may have been influenced by Ruskin's grief for his lost love Rose La Touche, who had died in 1875 and whom Ruskin described as having 'gone where the hawthorn blossoms go'.
Place of Origin
Object history note
The history of the crosses commissioned by John Ruskin for presentation to the students crowned May Queen at Whitelands College has been told by Charlotte Gere and Geoffrey Munn (see reference). The college was founded in 1841 to train women as teachers in the schools of the National Schools Society. In 1881 Ruskin became involved in plans for a ceremony on May Day in which the students would crown with flowers one of their number, chosen by themselves without interference from the staff. The details of the ceremony were largely decided by members of the college, but Ruskin took responsibility for the provision of a cross. Arthur Severn, husband of Joan Agnew, Ruskin’s cousin, designed for him a cross of may blossom. Another was made the following year, but Ruskin remained unsatisfied, and in 1883 Edward Burne-Jones was commissioned to make a new design. Although apparently highly satisfied with the result, Ruskin appears to have come to the opinion of the May Queen’s father, an amateur botanist, that the cross was not ‘hawthorny enough’. In 1884 Ruskin therefore returned to Arthur Severn who made a design which with small variations was used every year until Ruskin’s death in 1900.
This cross was awarded by her fellow students to Emma Hand (born 23 December 1874) in 1893, when the cross was presented to her by Baroness Burdett-Coutts. For a photograph of her wearing it, see Gere and Munn, plate 78.
The cross has its original blue velvet case of cruciform shape. Its vivid colour is the same as that of Ruskin’s cravat, made to match the colour of his eyes.
Coloured gold Ruskin Cross and velvet case, presented to the Whitelands College May Queen. Designed by Arthur Severn, England, 1893.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Gere, Charlotte and Munn, Geoffrey. Artists' Jewellery: Pre-Raphaelite to Arts and Crafts. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors' Club, 1989, pp. 120-136.