The Martyr Of Solway

By a strange quirk of serendipity, this bit of fine art had been languishing in my uploads directory waiting for me to research it for a blog post, when reader Jeremy sent along a better copy and some information:

martyr of solway chained to a rock

The painting is by pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais, and it shows one Margaret Wilson, a member of the Free Church who refused to recognise the established Church of Scotland, and so was condemned to death by drowning in 1695 and left chained to the rocks in the Solway Firth. According to the Walker Gallery where the painting hangs today, witnesses to her execution reported that as the tide rose she defiantly quoted and sang from scripture, and that her hair floated around her head like a halo in the clear water.

Sadly, the painting has been Bowdlerized. When conservators x-rayed it, they discovered that it was originally painted as a nude. Millais painted Margaret in around 1871 without her shirt, with clothing being added later to placate delicate Victorian sensibilities:

martyr of solway -- the nude x-ray version

Elsewhere on Bondage Blog:

8 comments on “The Martyr Of Solway”:

jeremy commented on February 23rd, 2008 at 3:15 am:

mmmm….. thanks for publishing this, and the intriguing x-ray . But a typo need correcting – it must have been 1695 not 1965 – I think the Scots would be hurt to think that such a barbaric punishment would be meted out in the trendy sixties.

Rope Guy commented on February 23rd, 2008 at 8:50 am:


Fixed now.

Cedrictheblack commented on February 24th, 2008 at 2:00 am:

I think the assumption of victorian tampering might be a touch premature . . .an oil painter works in layers, and starting with a basic form, which appears as a ‘nude’ in the x-ray is a standard practice. The artist also would have been working with the heavier base coat in setting out the figure, so it’s not surprising that it would show up. Of course, that could be the artisit’s original sketch on the canvas done to give perspective, etc. The charcoal would show up better under the x-ray.

Rope Guy commented on February 24th, 2008 at 10:31 am:

Cedric, it’s not an assumption, at least not on my part. Rather, it’s the assertion of the Walker Gallery where the picture hangs. I don’t know their reputation in the art world, but usually the art community is very stuffy about this stuff, so I’m assuming they wouldn’t say it unless it was based on scholarship or known history of the piece. The painting isn’t that old, it’s unlikely the Bowdlerization isn’t documented, if that’s indeed what happened.

Rope Guy commented on February 24th, 2008 at 11:16 am:

Whoops, on reading back my response “sounds” kinda hostile. Complete accident on my part, I’m sorry Cedric. I really do appreciate your input and perspective on how art is created.

It’s just that I wanted to be clear, I was repeating what the gallery says, not leaping to the Bowdlerization conclusion on my own. Of course they may indeed be completely full of shit.

dncarac commented on February 25th, 2008 at 10:40 am:

The “feel” of the piece changes from the under-piece to the finished piece. In the finished piece, she’s looking demurly downward and her mouth is more relaxed. In the under-piece, she’s looking to the right – toward her accusers, maybe?? toward the incoming tide?? And her mouth is drawn up into a bit of a pout. In the final piece, she looks sad and submissive. In the under-piece she’s a bit more defiant.

Not an artist or art critic – just things I noticed.


M.Yu commented on February 26th, 2008 at 3:41 pm:

Nice work. I am linking to it. I am always on the look out for this type of thing.

don1 commented on February 28th, 2008 at 4:47 am:

I recall reading of this incident in ‘Fox’s Book of Martyrs’ She was murdered along with an older woman, also called Margaret. both died bravely.
As Jim Elliot [an USA Christian Missionary/martyr in Ecuador] said, ‘He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep for something that he cannot lose.’

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