caption

David Jones, Cunedda Wledig

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)

Details

Country House
Mells Manor
Title(s)
Cunedda Wledig
Date
1948
Medium and support
Black and coloured chalks on paper
Dimensions
Overall height: 57 cm, Overall width: 43.5 cm
Artist
David Jones
Catalogue Number
MM92

Description

According to David Jones, all his writing stemmed from his visit to Jerusalem under the British Mandate in 1934.1 In a letter to Saunders Lewis dated April 1971 Jones recalled seeing the British soldiers patrolling the streets of the Holy City at this time; on one occasion he reimagined them as Roman soldiers patrolling the walls of the Antonia Fortress.2 The epiphanic interpretation of soldiers patrolling defensive structures at the peripheries of empire went on to be reprised in writings such as The Anathemata (1952) and ‘The Wall’ (1955), as well as in artworks such as the present, Cunedda Wledig, in which Jones depicts Cunedda and the stone fortifications constructed during the Roman occupation of Britain at the north-western frontier of the empire.

Jones leant heavily on John Edward Lloyd’s A History of Wales: From the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest, for his understanding of the historic Cunedda Wledig. Lloyd identifies him as a Brythonic, Christian, Roman official of high rank (therefore unifying Roman, Christian, and Celtic histories) and connects him with the important duty of guarding Hadrian's Wall.3 Cunedda had served in the Gododdin kingdom (modern-day south-east Scotland and north-east England), which he had been tasked with defending against Pictish incursions south of Hadrian’s Wall. In the early fifth century Cunedda travelled to north-west Wales to defend the region from Irish raiders and invasion. There he founded the Kingdom of Gwynedd (Venedotia). Thus, as the Jones scholar Paul Robichaud has identified, Cunedda is a liminal figure, linking and demonstrating the continuity between the Roman Empire and the establishment of medieval Wales.4 It is this latter role as founder of the Welsh nation that Jones emphasised in designating Cunedda ‘conditor nostor’.5 Jones apprehended that Cunedda and his progeny established a ‘line of medieval princes that stemmed straight from Roman Britain’ that was unique in Britain, while under this dynasty ‘the entity we now call Wales together with its unique tradition came into being’.6 Cunedda’s ancestral line lasted for about nine centuries until it was brought to an end with the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last Welsh Prince, in 1282.

The present composition is dominated by the distinctly Roman central figure; the muscle cuirass (note the abdominal musculature, navel and nipple) was worn by Roman men of rank and seniority, while military status is denoted by the paludamentum that is fastened in place at his right shoulder by a plate brooch. Jones constructs a thin crown on Cunedda’s head with a meandering line of yellow, suggesting military success and foreshadows his fate as the progenitor of a royal dynasty. This role was emphasised in Jones’s drawing The Lord of Venedotia, also from 1948 (British Council). Jones had visited Hadrian’s Wall and the ruins of the Roman fort at Housesteads (Vercovicium) with Helen Sutherland in the early 1930s; the stone defensive line marked by rectangular mile-castle fortifications is translated into Jones’s composition, seen here receding behind Cunedda’s shoulders.

by Tom Bromwell

Footnotes

  1. Thomas Dilworth, David Jones: Engraver, Soldier, Painter, Poet, London: Jonathan Cape, 2017, p. 168.

    1
  2. David Jones, Dai Greatcoat: A Self-Portrait of David Jones in his Letters, ed. René Hague, London: Faber & Faber, 1980, p. 57.

    2
  3. John Edward Lloyd, A History of Wales: From the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest, 2 vols, London: Longmans Green and Co., 1911–12, vol. 1, pp. 99–100.

    3
  4. Paul Robichaud, Making the Past Present: David Jones, the Middle Ages and Modernism, Washington D.C: Catholic University of America Press, 2007, p. 55.

    4
  5. Translated as ‘our founder’: David Jones, The Anathemata, London: Faber & Faber, 1952, 71.

    5
  6. David Jones, ‘Wales and the Crown’, 1953, in Epoch and Artist: Selected Writings, ed. Harman Grisewood, London: Faber & Faber, 1959, pp. 41–2.

    6

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