Alexander Creswell

The Royal Wedding – Westminster Abbey

(Half-scale Maquette) Westminster Abbey – The Wedding of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge, 2011

22 x 30 inches / 36 x 56 cm

At exactly this time last year I was working in the studio on this maquette, building up for an important piece which I had been given the opportunity of undertaking in Westminster Abbey. I had been fortunate enough to sketch on the day of the wedding – the 29th April – perched up in my special vantage point overlooking the crossing and the high altar, the best seat in the house and largely invisible from below. Outside, London was in festival mood and as the guests arrived cheers could be heard outside. The Abbey was serene and poised. The orchestra were tuning up in the cramped organ-loft to my left.

As part of my long-term study in Westminster Abbey I had been very keen to see the Abbey doing what it does best, namely the ceremonies of State. The Abbey’s function is widely varied, from the sombre burial-ground of monarchs and great men to the must-see on the tourist trail. It is a place of worship. History is made here and resides here. Westminster Abbey is England in a nutshell; rich, beautiful, varied, not always comfortable, challenging, aloof but protecting, benign yet didactic, overpowering and complex, and yet surprisingly intimate.  I was about to witness the most intimate of ceremonies conducted with all the pomp and glory which makes Britain great, and nowhere does it better than Westminster Abbey.

I had been allocated a space in the Muniment Room, a loggia which opens onto the Quire and the south transept, Poet’s Corner. I had a clear view over the most important seats. I drew every detail my eye rested on, rapidly covering pages of a large sketchbook. The perspective was a challenge; a gantry of television lights partly blocked the view and the great stone pier divided the scene, but I could duck and weave to be able to include the altar, pulpit, and still see Statesmen’s corner and the north transept. The music built and the Royal Family arrived, then the groom and best man, flashes of colour amid a bright spectrum. At the arrival of the bride a great cheer percolated in from the crowds outside, moving, powerful. The service began. Feverishly drawing, I had no idea which moment I would capture in my painting later. The bride, the train, the best-man’s whispered glimpse over his shoulder, the Bride’s father offering the hand of his daughter to the future monarch. Powerful stuff borne aloft on deafening music, gloriously loud, the orchestra, organ and choir fighting to outdo the trumpeters. This is Westminster Abbey in full glory, and doing what it does so well.

I was grateful for my experience sketching at sea, drawing without taking one’s eyes off the subject, lest it should be gone. I drew the clergy in their colourful vestments, Dean, Archbishop, Bishop, the sermon, the prayers. On one page I scribbled “..and did those feet…” to remind myself of the towering climax of Jerusalem raising the roof, singing and drawing at the same time, not easy. The architecture was soaring upward in a gothic firework display of stone, exploding with flowers – white wistaria – along the reredos and in the triforium. Time passed rapidly.

When the service was over I stayed put, still drawing, trying to get every glimpse safely down on paper, downloading my eyes, as it were. I worked from a blur of fleeting visual memory, and later I covered more pages with watercolour notes, the colours of the vestments and dresses, the bright light in the volume of the space, the delicate flush colours of the Cosmati pavement, the gold reredos, the red carpet, the congregation, hats, pinks & greens, military uniforms, reds, blues.