More stained glass fragments from Park Abbey (Leuven) discovered in Quebec

Since the Summer of 2014, Vidimus has followed with interest the story of a collection of outstanding early seventeenth-century stained and enamelled glass panels which faced an uncertain future after the closure of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC, before finding their way back to their original home at the Praemonstratensian abbey at Park, in Heverlee near Leuven, where the panels formed part of the cloister glazing, considered the masterpiece of the Louvain-born glass-painter Jean de Caumont.

This month, Claire LaBrecque, Associate Professor at the University of Winnipeg, brings a further, unexpected, chapter to the tale.

An Unexpected Discovery

Fig.1. Canon Jacques Lacops (?) holding a monstrance and a palm branch, panel from Park Abbey (Leuven) now in the Collections of the University Laval (Québec), c. 1635-1644, attributed to Jean de Caumont. Photo: Roland Sanfaçon, 2017.

Fig.1. Canon Jacques Lacops (?) holding a monstrance and a palm branch, panel from Park Abbey (Leuven) now in the Collections of the University Laval (Québec), c. 1635-1644, attributed to Jean de Caumont. Photo: Roland Sanfaçon, 2017.

A panel of stained glass acquired by the University Laval (Québec) in 1972 has until recently remained puzzling (Fig.1). It was tentatively identified upon its acquisition as representing, “A Bishop Holding a Palm Branch (?)”, possibly from France and dating from the late 16th or early 17th century [1], but I have recently been able to associate the panel with the works that Jean de Caumont created for the cloister of Park Abbey, in Hervelee near Leuven, Belgium, between 1635 and 1644 [2]. The identification of this panel was timely. Less than five years ago, Yale University Art Gallery returned to Park a collection of parts of ten windows from the abbey, and three years later an additional six windows were returned from the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington prior to the gallery’s closure [3]. Preparations are now underway to conserve and install the glass in its original location [4]. The broad coverage of these events by the media, particularly on the internet, certainly facilitated my task in identifying the provenance of the Québec panel.

Although fragmented and repaired with many stopgaps of old glass, some of which may come from other panels from Park Abbey, enough original pieces of glass survive to allow me to identify the figure represented in the panel at Laval University as a clergyman, and to recognize the style, the technique, and the type of composition as those that characterize the works of Jean de Caumont and his workshop at Park Abbey. The results of my research were shared with some colleagues, members of the International Corpus Vitrearum, who confirmed that the panel now in the collections of the University Laval does appear to come from Park Abbey [5]. In particular, Professor Ellen Shortell immediately recognized the resemblances between the figure in the panel and that of a Premonstratensian canon represented in one of a handful of preparatory drawings (n.d.) kept in the archives of Park Abbey and which she had had the opportunity to study (Fig.2). The drawing represents canon Jacobus Lacopius Lacop [6], who was a member of the Premonstratensian Order of Middleburg, and became curate in Munster, near The Hague, before he was martyred and executed by Calvinists on 9 July 1572 [7].

The panel in the collections of the University Laval, which measures 53 x 88.7 cm, represents a canon standing upright against a baroque architectural border. He wears the white canonial choir vestments associated with his clerical position, the alb finely hemmed with lacework which reduces the plainness of the cassock underneath, and a stole. As on the drawing in the archives of Park Abbey, the canon holds a palm branch in his left hand, symbol of his martyrdom, and a monstrance in his right hand. The monstrance, which often appears in the representations of St. Norbert and recalls the singular devotion the Premonstratensians had to the Eucharist [8], may also refer to the upholding of Catholic doctrine in the face of Protestant persecution. Such a symbol finds its true meaning particularly in relation to Jacques Lacop who reconciled to the Catholic Church after a brief conversion to Protestantism [9].

Fig. 2. Preparatory drawing (cartoon) for a stained glass of the cloister of Park Abbey, Archives of the Museum of Park Abbey, n.d. Photo: Archives Anciennes de Park (AAP).

Fig. 2. Preparatory drawing (cartoon) for a stained glass of the cloister of Park Abbey, Archives of the Museum of Park Abbey, n.d. Photo: Archives Anciennes de Park (AAP).

The canon is turned towards his right, so he was probably looking in the direction of a narrative scene which occupied the central panel of the window it was set in, and at another clergyman who flanked the narrative scene on the opposite side: a composition which was repeated in all of the cloister windows at Park Abbey [10]. The image is painted with grisaille, silver stain which appears in both golden and red orange tones in the borders, red sanguine which is visible on the marble floor on which the canon stands, and blue enamel used to highlight the tassels ornamenting the ends of his stole. All of these elements are entirely in keeping with the location of this fragment in one of the original windows from the cloister, where single figures of Premonstratensian saints fill the side panels flanking a central scene from the life of St. Norbert. The canon is missing his original head, however, and the architectural border to the right is made of fragments which must have been reused from another section of the ensemble. More fragments, including a portion of a cloudy sky, the head of a horse and what could be a fragment of the head of a devil are visible to the left side of the canon.

It is clear that the panel in Québec was at one point severely damaged as was probably the case with other panels from the same location which were reused as stopgaps. For instance, the current head is obviously too large in comparison with the body that supports it, and it is probably too large to be associated with a scene from any other window from Park Abbey. The head, obviously that of a bishop, is painted in grisaille and silver stain for the face and the mitre which is adorned with pearls and cabochon, and sanguine for the lips, the dimple, and the ear. It is painted in the style of Jean de Caumont, but without further evidence it is impossible to say whether it is by his hand or that of a follower.

History of the Panel’s Acquisition

The panel of stained glass now in Québec City is one of many pieces which were purchased at the auction of the large and varied collection of Michel Acézat at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris in 1969 [11]. Michel Acézat was a glazier and a collector of stained glass until his death in 1944. His daughter, who was also a glass painter, inherited her father’s collection, which she appears to have kept intact until the auction of 1969 [12]. It is not clear how Michel Acézat acquired his stained glass collection, but there is a possibility that some pieces were purchased from art collector Albert Gorge, in Rouen, or from a Parisian art dealer who was acquainted with Albert Gorge [13]. The volume of the American Corpus Vitrearum on the collections of the Metropolitan Museum reveals that Albert Gorge purchased a number of panels of grisaille from a dealer in second-hand goods (brocanteur) in Rouen in 1905, and that “a short time after Jean Lafond had seen the glass, Gorge sold the panels to the Parisian dealers Bacri Frères”, who then sold them to Michel Acézat around 1935 [14]. It was probably during a visit to the shop of Michel Acézat that Jean Lafond photographed a panel of grisaille for his article published in 1953 [15]. Twelve panels of grisaille sold at the Acézat auction are now in the collections of the University Laval, and some of them may be related to the panels of grisaille in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is not clear, however, whether the panel from Park Abbey entered the Acézat collection the same way.

The works from the Acézat auction now in the University Laval collections were donated by former faculty member Jean-Guy Violette, a historian of Early Christian and Byzantine art. While pursuing his PhD at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris in the Fall of 1966, Violette met Paul Popesco in a Jean Lassus’ seminar [16]. At the time, Popesco was working towards his PhD on Chartres Cathedral, as well as serving as Secretary of the French committee of the Corpus Vitrearum, so he was well acquainted with both Louis Grodecki and Jean Lafond. Not only was he knowledgeable concerning the most recent research and discoveries on Pre-Modern stained glass in France, but he was also aware of how it was circulating on the art market. It is through his friendship with Popesco that Jean-Guy Violette developed an interest in medieval stained glass.

In November 1969, Paul Popesco heard of the upcoming auction at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris. The auction catalogue, Vente après décès A, ancienne collection de M. Michel Acézat [17], announced the important estate auction would take place on the 24th and 25th of November, and that many works in stained glass would be on display for only one day. Accompanied by Popesco, Violette attended the pre-auction ‘journée d’exposition’ on 22 November and evaluated the collection piece by piece. The lots, some containing up to 10 pieces, were bundled together with twines, so that to see the content of a lot, they had to peek into the bundles of stained glass. While doing so, they took careful notes, evaluating the condition and interest of each piece. Jean-Guy Violette noted that there were many very interesting pieces of stained glass, and most of them were listed at affordable prices. The catalogue entries do not provide very detailed information, but only a brief mention of the category of objects (stained glass, secular or religious), the number of pieces (single, paired or lots), their dimensions, a possible provenance, and the subject represented for the most ‘valuable’ pieces. It is thus not yet possible to identify the lot that contained the panel from Park Abbey.

After consultation with his brother, Claude Violette, who was also interested in acquiring a few panels, some of which would serve to decorate both his house and his restaurant in Montréal [18], Jean-Guy Violette acquired about 60 works of stained glass at the Acézat auction, some in a relatively good state of conservation, but also many small fragments. Before their shipment to Canada, some panels needed to be fixed and stabilized with a temporary framing, so Popesco offered to take the works to the workshop of his friend, the Parisian glazier Pierre Gaudin [19]. No records or photographs attest that this panel from Park Abbey was altered when in Pierre Gaudin’s workshop, so it is for now impossible to determine when the various fragments constituting the panel from Park Abbey now in Quebec were pieced together.

Re-connecting the Pre-Modern European stained glass in Canada to the European Continent

The panels purchased at the Acézat auction remained in Pierre Gaudin’s workshop for a year, before being shipped to Canada in January 1971, some of them directly to Claude Violette, in Montréal, and the rest to Jean-Guy Violette in Québec City. A portion of Jean-Guy Violette’s acquisitions, including this panel, was sold to the University Laval as early as December of 1972, in the hope that it might serve its medievalists in their teaching and research. Claude Violette kept fourteen pieces of stained glass until he donated them to the University Laval in June 2016. By doing so, he expressed his desire to see the works of stained glass enrich the collections of the University Laval so that their study would be facilitated in the future, and that they could be properly displayed and enhanced [20]. Following the example of his brother Claude, Jean-Guy Violette offered to donate his own collection of stained glass to the University Laval in September 2017. Together, they constitute the largest collection of Pre-Modern stained glass in a Canadian public institution.

The identification of the provenance of this panel and of its subject represents a significant contribution to the study of Pre-Modern stained glass in Canada. It also underscores the importance of the panel, which is not only one of the largest church panels from the 17th century in a Canadian collection, but also one which was made in the workshop of the esteemed glass artist Jean de Caumont. It is hoped that the discovery of the connections between the panel in Quebec and Park Abbey will draw the attention of researchers and will lead to a growth of interest in both the collections of stained glass of the University Laval and also of those of Park Abbey. The planned publication of a second volume of the Canadian Corpus Vitrearum will shed more light on this collection and on this panel of glass which unites Canada and Belgium.


1. See Checklist of the Corpus Vitrearum (Canada), Index # CVMA CA 1.9.

2. Isabelle Lecocq and Ellen Shortell, “Les vitraux de l’abbaye de Parc (Heverlee, Louvain) conservés à Bruxelles, témoins majeurs de l’art du vitrail du XVIIe siècle dans les anciens Pays-Bas du Sud”, Revue belge d’archéologie et d’histoire de l’art, vol. LXXXIII (2014), p. 121.

3. A large portion of their art collection was donated to the National Gallery in Washington. Roger Rosewell, “Future of Park Abbey Windows Unclear”, Vidimus 81 (2014); Ellen Shortell, “Stained Glass from the Corcoran Gallery to Return to Park Abbey”, Vidimus 93 (2015); “Corcoran Returns Stained Glass Windows to Belgium’s Park Abbey”, in GWToday (14 Dec., 2015): https://gwtoday.gwu.edu/corcoran-returns-stained-glass-windows-belgium%E2%80%99s-park-abbey (accessed 1 March 2018); A. François, “Des vitraux rentrés des États-Unis à Louvain”, Flandre Info.Be, 8 September 2016: http://deredactie.be/cm/vrtnieuws.francais/magazine/1.2761958 (accessed 1 March 2018); http://glasramen.parkabdij.be/ (accessed 27 January 2018).

4. A pre-restoration study has been completed by a team of experts led by Aletta Rambaut.

5. The collections of the University Laval comprise 58 works of Pre-Modern stained glass. I want to thank James Bugslag and Roland Sanfaçon (Corpus Vitrearum, Canada), Isabelle Lecocq (Corpus Vitrearum, Belgium) and Ellen Shortell (Corpus Vitrearum, USA) for their support and expertise.

6. Translated either as Jacques Lacoupe, Jacques Lacop or Jacques Lacops.

7. Edouard-Fr. Van Cauwenberghe, Lettres sur l’histoire d’Audenarde, Audenarde, Imprimerie de F. Van Peteghem-Ronsse, 1847, pp. 198-9.

8. See, for instance, the engravings of Cornelis Galle in the Vita S. Norberti Canonicorum praemonstratensium, Antwerpen (1622).

9. I want to express my gratitude to Ellen Shortell for her useful advice and guidance on the symbolism of the monstrance in relation to the Premonstratensians, and other aspects discussed in this article.

10. See Isabelle Lecocq and Ellen Shortell, loc.cit. (2015), Fig.4, p.119.

11. Vente après décès A, ancienne collection de M. Michel Acézat, exhibition catalogue for the Hôtel Drouot published in London, Rheims & Laurin, 1969.

12. She has not been identified by her given name in our source: Jane Hayward, “Two Grisaille Glass Panels from Saint-Denis at the Cloisters”, in The Cloisters: Studies in Honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary, Ed. By Mary B., Shepard, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art (June 1, 1992), note 1. p.320.

13. It is known that Albert Gorge acquired a fairly large amount of stained glass from damaged buildings in the region of Rouen in the early 20th century, including some panels of grisaille from the old castle of Bouvreuil in Rouen, which had been installed in the Chapel of the Ursulines on rue Morand in Rouen since the 17th century. Some of these panels of grisailles are now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, in New York, and at least one panel of grisaille may be kept in the collection of the University Laval, in Quebec.

14. J. Hayward, English and French Medieval Stained Glass in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, revised and edited by M. B. Shepard and C. Clark, Corpus Vitrearum USA, vol. 1, New York, Harvey Miller Publ./Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003, p. 200; also, the documentation on the acquisition of the Acézat collection of stained glass by the MET on: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection#!?q=ac%C3%A9zat (accessed 13 October 2017).

15. Jean Lafond, “Le vitrail en Normandie de 1250 à 1300”, Bulletin Monumental, vol. 111, no. 4 (1953), 317-358, at p. 341.

16. Most information regarding the acquisition of stained glass at the Acézat auction in 1969 comes from a letter that Jean-Guy Violette sent to Roland Sanfaçon on May 6, 2002 and from a conversation I had with Jean-Guy Violette on 16 August 2017: his letter is kept in the archives of the Canadian Corpus Vitrearum.

17. Op.cit. (1969).

18. The Restaurant Chez Queux was located on rue Saint-Paul, in Montréal (Qc).

19. Pierre Gaudin worked on many restoration projects in the Post-WWII period, including the stained glass of Metz Cathedral and that of the collegiate church of Notre-Dame-des-Andelys.

20. “Des vitraux du Moyen Âge d’une valeur de plus de 700 000$ cédés à l’Université Laval”, in Journal Le Soleil, 8 Juin 2016: https://www.bibl.ulaval.ca/fichiers_site/nouvelles/don-claude-laviolette-publireportage.pdf (accessed 1 March 2018).

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