"The Veiled and Feathered Sunburst"

 

from: Jean Overton Fuller's Bio on Francis Bacon

......I came back to that strange sunburst face. The sunburst with face inscribed is a Masonic symbol, known by Masons as the Sun in Splendour. Only it does not really have a chin, a chin whose purpose is to make evident the folds of a veil.

{Sunburst(b&w emphasized) from Manes Verulamiani,1626
The book of eulogies published upon Bacon's death}

 

In Rape of Lucrece, one reads:

Revealing day through eury crannie spies,
And seems to point her out where she sits weeping,
To whoom she sobbing speakes, o eye of eyes,
Why pry'st though through my window? leaue thy peeping.

1086-89

There is here an obvious link with "Reuealing day through every cranny peeps" (Northumberland Manuscript). Could it be possible that the sunburst face which comes through the veil in that room is Revealing Day peeping through the veil of clouds, the sun piercing the clouds of ignorance?

The symbol was in use before it was carved inside the Canonbury Tower Compton Oak room,

(The Veiled and Feathered Sunburst,Canonbury Tower)

for it appears in the centre of the headpiece of the first editions of both Venus and Adonis and the Rape of Lucrece , less round, and peeping over, instead of through, a veil, but the symbolism is recognisably the same, and it is surrounded by the same corona of what seem to be feathers arranged like rays. It is not one of the set headpieces of Richard Field, the printer, so may have belonged to the author. It appears on one other book, the 1612 edition of the Authorised Version of the Holy Bible. I enquired of Lambeth Palace why this should share a headpiece withVenus and Adonis

(Headpiece to the title page of Venus and Adonis, 1594)

and The Rape of Lucrece, but the answer was they did not know, and I had the impression it had not been drawn to their attention before. They recommended me to ask at Bible House. I did, but they did not know either. It is not being suggested Bacon wrote the Bible, but he was certainly interested in the translation, as we know from a letter he wrote the King, and if the headpiece belonged to him he might have lent it for what he considered a worthy purpose.

A version of the face appears also on the first edition of the Sonnets, without veil, and chubbier, but with the reminiscent corona of plumes, now recognisably those of the ostrich, suggestive of Prince of Wales Feathers.

(Headpiece to the Sonnets, 1609)

We have, therefore, in this veiled and feathered sunburst -face, a symbol linking Bacon, through his tenancy of the Canonbury Tower in the Compton Oak Room, with both Masonry and Shakespeare. I take it that "Rich" Spencer, being a high-up Mason, had made the room available to Bacon, upon an informal basis, so that he might conduct the rites in it, rites in which Spencer presumably played a part. This would explain why, after Spencer had died, Bacon found it necessary to obtain from his daughter and her husband William, 2nd Lord Compton, later the Earl of Northampton, a formal tenancy, so as to be able to continue holding the Masonic meetings there where so much loving care had been expended upon the carved symbolism.

The Canonbury Tower still belongs to the Marquess of Northampton, and is let , together with the adjoining theatre, to the Tavistock company, with a provision one room should be made available to the Francis Bacon Society for use as its headquarters.

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For more on symbols and imagery found in Bacon's writings