Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Wigtown Martyrs

In 1685 during a period known as
'The Killing Time' in Scotland, two women were tied to stakes driven into the sands of Wingtown Bay and left to the mercy of incoming tides. The eldest, a sixty three year old widow called Margaret McLachlan was set further out; doomed to drown first in the hope it would make her young friend, eighteen year old Margaret Wilson, swear an oath to the recently restored King Charles II and renounce the Covenant. The teenager held fast and drowned along with her comrade. The pair were buried in the local churchyard where they still lie.

Some accounts say Margaret Wilson did recant, but her executioners heartlessly decided to 'let her rot' anyway. Nice.

Though I love all things historical, it wasn't the history of religion or politics which inspired this image; my motivations were threefold:

1. John Everett Millais 
I've always admired the genius Pre-Raphaelite, especially his most famous painting, Ophelia. But it was this image, 'The Martyr of Solway,' which first introduced me to the subject.
From wikipedia: 'Painted in 1871, it hangs in Liverpool's Walker Gallery. Although the painting today shows Margaret wearing an open-neck blouse, when conservators x-rayed the piece, they found that the figure had once been a nude looking sharply to the right. In fact the head and torso had originally formed part of Millais' 1870 painting The Knight Errant, which portrayed a naked rape victim tied to a tree. A medieval knight is depicted cutting her free, having killed her attacker. The painting received negative reviews, leading Millais to cut away the head and torso section and add a fresh piece of canvas to paint it anew, with the woman's head turned distinctly away to the left. The original figure section was added to a new canvas for the 1871 Martyr painting and was repainted with chains and the more modest blouse.'

2. ArtRage's Oil Brush
Or more accurately, Simon Dominic's enthusiasm for ArtRage's Oil Brush. In a recent tutorial for digital art magazine, ImagineFX, fantasy artist extraordinaire Simon eloquently reminds us just how much fun ArtRage is. The oil brush is simple, elegant and allows anything from realistic impasto effects to thinned washes through a simple 3 dial settings panel. Mighty fine interface design!

3. Cormorants
Cormorants are a feature of Scottish Coastlines which I'd wanted to paint for a while. This particular one regularly stands on a small pile of debris in the middle of the Water of Leith drying out its wings. Wigtown Martyrs seemed like a good opportunity to include the little fellow; perched at the top of Wilson's stake wings outstretched, it gives the mood a brooding mythical air and is reminiscent of that most iconic symbol of martyrdom, the cross. In Norwegian myth it is said the Cormorant comes with warnings from the underworld.
The image actually looked more balanced by removing the bird and extending the stake upwards, but in this case I felt this top heavy unbalacing suited the subject matter.
The sharp eyed among you might also notice the Union Jack is in fact a 1606 'King's Colours,' version, which did not yet include St Patrick's cross.

Click all images to enlarge.