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A Surprise Discovery in a Yorkshire collection

Fig. 1 Werdmüller panel in transmitted light. Stern Donation, Nicolas Barker Study Collection, University of York. (Photo by Melissa Polkey, © University of York)

In December 2019 York book dealer, Jeffrey Stern, generously donated a collection of stained glass panels to the University of York, intending them to be made available to students of the MA in Stained Glass Conservation and Heritage Management. The panels are now part of the growing teaching collection in the Nicolas Barker Conservation Studio in the Kings Manor. All but one piece had been acquired by Mr Stern from the family of the York glass painter and stained glass restorer, J.W. Knowles (1838-1931). This panel (Fig. 1), a Swiss Wappenscheibe (heraldic panel), was then identified in the archives of the Knowles business deposited in the city library, York Explore.((See:, asset ID: 1004901. [Accessed 5th August 2021]. The archive photograph shows the panel prior to the insertion of a painted replacement piece on the right-hand side.))

The focal point is a heraldic shield, consisting of azure a mill-wheel without spokes having five buckets, three on the dexter and two on the sinister, surrounding two crescent moons addorsed, and a border or.((Identified with reference to Rietstap by Phillip J. Lankester FSA. See: V. Roland, Planches de Armorial Général de J-B Rietstap, Vol. III (Paris, Institut Héraldique, 1909), Pl. CCLLXIX.)) It is surmounted by mantling (or doubled azure) and crest (out of a coronet a plume of five ostrich feathers or and azure). Behind this are architectural pillars and green foliage. At the top of the panel is the date 1704 in a cartouche, and at the bottom is a cartouche containing the following inscription:

Joh[ann] Ludwig Werdmüller

des Rahts S[t]atthalter auch Oberster

FeldHaubtman[n] und dießer Zeit

OberVogt des Neuen Ambts((Translation: Joh[ann] Ludwig Werdmüller / the city council’s governor and also chief / captain and currently / Chief Bailiff of the new district.))

Research undertaken by the author has established that the panel is a commemoration of Johan Ludwig Werdmüller, Governor of Zürich at some time around the beginning of the 18th century. Three versions of a portrait of him, accompanied by heraldry identical to that in the York panel, have been located in the Zentralbibliothek in Zürich (Fig. 2). The Werdmüller name was borne by several generations of nobility, and the gold border of the blazon was probably added to distinguish Johann Ludwig from his other relatives. 

By 1704, the use of the Standesscheibe (status panels) would have long been in decline and thus this panel is a rare and unusually refined version of a significant stained glass design type that had been led by the Swiss for the previous two centuries.((B. Giesicke and M. Ruoss, ‘In Honor of Friendship: Function, Meaning, and Iconography in Civic Stained-Glass Donations in Switzerland and Southern Germany’, in B. Butts and L. Hendrix (eds), Painting on Light: Drawings and Stained Glass in the Age of Dürer and Holbein, Los Angeles, 2000, pp. 43-56.)) Glass painters of this time often worked to templates which could be customised based on the individual heraldry required. Those who worked in this subset of glass painting were extremely prolific, and the use of relatively standardised templates means that a large number of comparable earlier examples have survived.((A large number of similar panels can be seen on the Vitrosearch website: [Accessed 5th August 2021].)) Hans Jakob Nüscheler II (1614–1658), for example, is known to have been commissioned to create 41 panels for Zürich council members from 1645 until his death.((R. Hasler, “Nüscheler, Hans Jakob (II., The younger)’, Vitrosearch (2018). Available at: [Accessed 5th August 2021].))

Fig. 2 Portrait of Johann Ludwig Werdmüller, anonymous artist, dated after 1708, Zentralbibliothek Zürich. Pen and ink drawing, h 213mm, w 163mm,

It is hoped that further research will enable the glass painter responsible for the York panel to be identified. It may also confirm whether this panel has any connection with Knowles’ well-known involvement in the installations of Swiss stained glass at Wragby church near Wakefield; several other composite panels from the Stern/Knowles collection contain intriguing fragments of Swiss glass.((P. Boesch, ‘The Swiss stained glass panels in Wragby (Nostell) church’, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 32 (1936), pp. 443-450.)) The author would welcome discussion with any Vidimus reader who can contribute to this ongoing research.


The author would like to thank Dr Ivo Rauch for his help in translating the inscription, and Philip J. Lankester FSA for his clarification of the heraldic identification.

Melissa Polkey


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