A nun contemplates a passion flower, symbolising the crucifixion of Christ. In her left hand, she holds an illuminated missal open at an image of the Virgin Mary. The frame, designed by Millais, is inscribed: SICUT LILIUM ('As the lily among thorns') from the Song of Solomon. This was traditionally associated with the Virgin Mary, as was the enclosed garden. Collins painted the background while staying in Oxford and the flowers were painted in the garden of the Clarendon Press, where he was the guest of the Combes. The painting is executed in the minutely detailed style of the early Pre-Raphaelites, though Collins was never a member of the Brotherhood. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851 and was one of the works which provoked Ruskin's defence of the young artists.
oil on canvas
image © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford