Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows

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Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows
Artist: John Constable
Location: Salisbury, England
Year: 1831
Movements Realism, Romanticism

Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows was painted in 1831 by John Constable. It features the Salisbury Cathedral underneath dark gray storm clouds, a rainbow and a man plowing horses through a small river stream. The painting is noted for three elements: the sky, the rainbow and the Cathedral.


John Constable was friends with a man named John Fisher. It was Fisher who suggested the concept for this artwork, although Constable rejected the first proposed title—Church Under a Cloud. The initial inspiration behind Fisher’s proposal may had been a caricature created by William Heath from 1929. The artist drew Lord Wellington and a group of people trying to pull down the steeple of the Church of England, while a Catholic monk held a candle in one hand and trailed gunpowder from his other and the supposed intention was to blow up the churches. White puffy clouds hovered over the church, while smoke from burned building rose into the sky. The drawing referred to the controversial Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, which allowed Catholics to sit in Parliament. Both Fisher and Constable disagreed with the law, whom saw it as an assault on British establishment. “The greatest mischief of Wellington’s government,” commented Constable.

Element: The Sky

Most art historians believed that the ominous depiction of the sky symbolized his political stance. The storm clouds represented the government’s assault on the Church of England, which in here was represented by the Cathedral. But Constable avoided directly depicting his ideals in his painting, keeping them hidden in this symbolic gesture.

Element: The Rainbow

There was some disagreement about the appearance of the rainbow. He alluded to the rainbow while giving a lecture a few years after the painting was completed. “I mean more than the rainbow itself, I mean dewy light and freshness, the departing shower, with the exhilaration of the returning sun.” The fact that it passed over the church, and that the base was situated at Leadenhall where John Fisher and John Constable had stayed, implied that the rainbow was of personal significance. It was also believed that the rainbow was added, not being apart of the scenery when Constable constructed the viewpoint, since scientifically a rainbow formation was impossible due to the angle of the sun. Some historians disagreed with that assertion as well, since Constable was known for depicting realistic backdrops in his artwork.

Element: The Cathedral

While all the elements surrounding the church appear turbulent and murky, the Salisbury Cathedral stands tall in a shaded background. Sunlight beams down onto the church steeple as it rises through a small clear opening in the clouds. While Constable composes the meadows with rough details, the woodland in front of the church is flat and consists of one color—green. Could all the elements in this painting symbolize the encroachment of negative outside forces? Or display the church’s significance to civilization?


Tate Museum purchased the original painting when it was put up for sale, after it was loaned to the National Gallery. The purchase price was £23.1 million (or $35 million).