Grand West Entrance, Jedburgh Abbey, September 19th, 1846

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Item Description: 

David Roberts’s Grand West Entrance, Jedburgh Abbey, September 19th, 1846, both the most recent and arguably the most radical composition of images displayed in this gallery, is significant in an examination of Gilpin’s theories of the picturesque for several key reasons. The choice of subject, a crumbling medieval monastery situated on the border between Scotland and England, can be interpreted as a temporally and spatially liminal place; the presence of the ruins collapses not only the present and the past, but also the national identities of the English and the Scottish. Jedburgh Abbey is a British space that is simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar, foreign and domestic. An abbey that over the course of its existence housed both Scottish nationalists and English monarchists, as well as divinely inspired abbots like Kennoch (J. Morton, The Monastic Annals 6), Jedburgh is a triple symbol of political strife, nationalistic desires, and religious devotion. As a painter of ruins and ecclesiastical buildings in Scotland and England, as well as on the Continent and in the Holy Land, Roberts becomes the quintessential painter of ruins, turning his attention to both the domestic and the foreign. This particular watercolor is intriguing: the grand entrance to the abbey is de-contextualized or divorced from the rest of the edifice and seems to appear suddenly out of the pristine white background of the canvas. The fragmentation of an already fragmented ruin is further emphasized by the seemingly random insertion of statuary remains in the right and left upper register of the painting. By zeroing in on the arched doorway and isolating it from the rest of the abbey, Roberts de-familiarizes the abbey to the extent that it serves to represent any medieval edifice to the untrained viewer.