Melvin Day’s suite of eight Stabat Mater paintings, depicting the moods of Mary’s response to her Son’s crucifixion, were recently installed in Wellington Cathedral of St Paul. Constructed after the Second World War, Reverend John McCaul told a group of Friends a little of the history of the building and how its interior was intended to contain only contemporary furnishings and art that had been specifically designed for it.

The Stabat Mater suite was not originally intended for the Cathedral. Melvin (Pat) Day CNZM, a former Director of the National Art Gallery (now The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa) was one of New Zealand’s most distinguished and influential artists and art historians. His works are held in national and international collections, including Te Papa. Day wanted the Stabat Mater paintings to be hung as a set in a suitable space. After his death in 2016, his Trustees gifted the suite to the Cathedral of St Paul.

Art curator Mark Hutchins-Pond told us of the multi-layered sources that had inspired the works, reflecting Day’s visual response to eight of the movements in Antonio Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater, the influence of Italian Master Piero della Francesca, and Day’s conversations with Mexican writer Frédéric-Yves Jeannet. But beyond the ‘intellectual’, Mark shared with us the more personal story of the panels, and how they are also an expression of a time when Melvin’s beloved wife Oroya was gravely ill. The Cross and brooding darkness of the Lachrimosa, and fear of his world falling apart in Pertransivit, the veil of tears in Contristari and Fleret, the dawning hope of Tristus and light-filled joy of Fons Amoris, on Oroya’s recovery, now hold significantly richer meanings for the Friends.

In the architectural space of the Cathedral the Stabat Mater works appear naturally at home, their abstract style and intense blues, greens and browns, the colours of the New Zealand landscape, harmonising perfectly with Beverley Shore Bennett’s modern stained-glass windows and altar dossal, and John Hutton’s etched-glass heraldic angels.

Elizabeth Kay, President

Feature image: Detail from: Pertransivit ((The Sword)) has passed through), Melvin Day. Image reproduced courtesy of the artist and Mark Hutchins Gallery.