Review article by Jasmine Allen, Director and Curator of The Stained Glass Museum, Ely.
The journal Folia Historiae Artium can be accessed free of charge here.
This special issue of Folia Historiae Artium, journal of the Commission on Art History published by the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences in Kraków, focuses on 19th and 20th-century stained glass and is international in its scope. Nine articles from contributing authors associated with the Corpus Vitrearum national committees in Austria, Catalonia, Germany, Great Britain, Poland, Switzerland and USA are included.1 Almost all were first presented as research papers at a two-day international conference hosted by members of the Polish Corpus Vitrearum committee in Kraków, December 2017, entitled ‘Stained Glass from c.1800 to 1945: Terminology – Periodization – Forms’, as previously reported in Vidimus.2 The aims of the conference were to discuss the basic issues related to studying stained glass art of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, including the definitions, terminology, stylistic forms and technological problems.
Prior to this small 2017 gathering in Krakow, the last major conference to bring together international researchers from Europe and America working on stained glass of this period was held in 1994 in Philadelphia, organised by the Society of Architectural Historians and the Census of Stained Glass Windows in America.3 Over the last 30 years the study of 19th and 20th-century stained glass has been tackled in different ways by Corpus Vitrearum national committees, some with more enthusiasm and at a faster pace than others, and to varying depths and degrees of success.
Many of the contributing articles to this issue of Folia Historiae Artium are presented as research reports, and focus on the methodological research framework, rationale and progress made by respective national Corpus committees. The conference organisers and editors of the issue perhaps missed an opportunity by not writing an introduction in which they could have reflected upon international advances made in recent years, as well as pulling together key themes emerging from individual papers. There are many points of connection to be made across contributing essays, which we will discuss here in groups dealing with the prominent themes of: stylistic and cultural influence of the ‘gothic’; studio practice and patronage; and international circulation and reproduction.
Two essays look at the stylistic and cultural influences of ‘gothic’ on the early revival of stained glass in ecclesiastical contexts.
The romanticism of the gothic in European literature is often discussed as a precursor of the architectural gothic revival and burgeoning demand for stained glass. In his article ‘Between light and shadows’, Tomasz Sybisyty explores the conceptual significance of subdued light in the literary and cultural imagination, as exemplified by writings on gothic churches in German literature during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Sybisyty discusses the use of coloured and stained glass as both a plot device and symbol for the uncanny and unfamiliar, where subdued light and lambency signify transition between material and spiritual realms. He draws attention to Goethe’s study of light phenomena and colour theory as a contributing factor to the perception that interiors of gothic churches should be flooded with subdued multi-coloured light. In doing so, Sybisyty underlines the dual romantic and rational reasons why translucent coloured glass windows evoking mystical atmospheres permeate literary texts of this period.
On the other hand, Martin Crampin investigates the form and character of ‘gothic revival’ church stained glass in Britain. Crampin’s essay is an important contribution to our understanding of the development of gothic revival stained glass in England and Wales. The developments in Scotland, largely due to religious differences, did not follow the same course. Crampin begins by setting out the background and reasons for significant changes in the style of stained glass windows during the 1840s and 1850s, before discussing the continuation of the gothic idiom in the second half of the nineteenth century. Unlike many discussions of this topic, Crampin pays due attention to the overlapping transitional style characterised by disjointed gothic and pictorial elements combined. This is perhaps best exemplified in the work of Shrewsbury-based artist David Evans in the 1840s and the Edinburgh-based firm of Ballantine & Allan (later Ballantine & Son) in the 1850s, which combined skilful painterly scenes with a selective approach to medieval styles and framing (Fig. 1).
The Folia contains several good case studies, in which particular stained glass studios or schemes are firmly placed into art-historical and political contexts. In particular, these all draw extensively on surviving archives relating to major stained glass studios in the authors’ respective countries, revealing new aspects of studio practice and patronage.
Valérie Sauterel and Camille Noverraz examine the archives of Kirsch & Fleckner, now in the collection of the Vitrocentre Romont, and investigate the activities and business acumen of this Fribourg studio’s work and their influence on Switzerland’s revival of stained glass in the late 19th century. The significance of international collaboration is highlighted by the studio’s reliance on self-employed artists from neighbouring countries to design new windows. The roles of individual artists within a commercial stained glass studio are also challenged, or at least blurred. As the authors demonstrate, the reuse of cartoons within Kirsch & Fleckner’s studio often involved artists reworking other artists’ original designs – serving to further complicate the role and status of the artist in stained glass production during this period. (This example validates a broader argument made in the volume by Daniel Parello about the modular adaptation of ecclesiastical imagery in an era of mass production).
The restoration of medieval stained glass is the focus of Cornelia Aman’s contribution, highlighting the importance of the plentiful restoration work carried out by many 19th and 20th-century stained glass studios. Focusing on the restoration work undertaken in Germany by the Königliche Institut für Glasmalerei, Aman demonstrates the integral relationship between medieval and 19th and 20th-century stained glass, revealing how restorations of medieval glass directly influenced the design and imagery of the firm’s new creations. Analysis of the Königliche Institut’s well-documented restoration of the medieval glazing in the west choir of Naumberg Cathedral raises interesting questions about the significance of ‘authenticity’ in the light of restoration practice. The medieval glazing scheme at Naumberg was carefully reconstructed, supplemented and reinterpreted by artists and craftsmen of the Königliche Glasmalerei-Institut and appears today in a hybrid form and different sequence. This presents a challenge for conservators who must consider how best to respect and balance the significance of the original medieval glass and subsequent historic interventions.
Christina Wais-Wolf’s article reveals how the study of iconographic concepts can illuminate the wider architectural, technical, iconographical and socio-political context of stained glass in the 19th and 20th century. Some highly interesting and significant Austrian stained glass windows and schemes of this period are discussed in this article, with a particular focus on patronage and political context. Case studies include the early Imperial schemes at Franzenburg Castle (early 1820s), where stained glass by Gottlob Samuel Mohn (1789-1825) was used in the visual construction of a reimagined lineage, demonstrating the legitimacy of his patron, the young Emperor Francis II/I. Other examples reveal the widespread presence of Imperial jubilee windows commemorating the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I across individual countries of the multi-ethnic former Austro-Hungarian monarchy and beyond, underlining the necessity of international research collaborations when studying stained glass of this period.
The question of how to catalogue, appraise and interpret 19th and 20th-century stained glass permeates this issue of Folia Historiae Artium. This is perhaps unsurprising given that several of the authors have turned their attention from cataloguing medieval stained glass to the (much more vast in number and varied in style) stained glass productions of the 19th and 20th centuries. Yet, as demonstrated in this issue, medieval scholars such as Cornelia Aman and Christina Wais-Wolf bring new insights into the working practice and influences of 19th and 20th-century stained glass studios.
Another abundant theme is visual sources for 19th-century stained glass, their international circulation, adaptation and translation, reproduction and replication. As several authors demonstrate, this is not only a question of artistic inspiration and reproduction (Raguin), but also religious and political propaganda (Parello), and once again is characterised by international influences (Canellas).
Virginia Raguin’s essay draws attention to the prolific number of 19th and 20th-century stained glass windows based on Renaissance and Baroque paintings. These artworks, which formed the foundation of public collections of art in European museums, were widely disseminated through engravings and lithographic prints. Raguin argues that these reproductions and adaptations of masterpieces served as recognisable, universal points of reference. She reveals how the American studios of J.R. Lamb and John La Farge (encouraged by their cultivated patrons) selected, adapted and breathed new life into old imagery, creating windows for a new era using their modern materials.
Daniel Parello looks at the production of German stained glass through the lens of mass production and highlights the conflicting ideology between stained glass as a sacred art and the reality of ecclesiastical mass production. The Catholic Church supported guidelines for the production of ecclesiastical art, which should neither be a luxury for the few, nor reduced to a soulless commodity. He demonstrates how the stained glass trade produced religious art to meet market demand, and how studios took a modular approach to using, combining and adjusting religious images. Drawing attention to questions of economy and reproduction and standardisation, Parello highlights the underlying issue that the inventory approach of the Corpus Vitrearum (as currently applied to medieval stained glass) is problematic for works of this period. He calls for more appropriate criteria to be developed and applied to manage the phenomenon of mass art, and address artistic quality in the prolific and varied productions of this period. He does not go so far as to outline these criteria, but in the UK, the late Neil Moat made some headway in 2013 in drafting historically objective selection criteria for assessing the significance of post-medieval stained glass with a view to recommending a national scheme for the study, promotion and designation of post-medieval stained glass in England and Wales. Whilst the production of a corpus of post-medieval stained glass in the UK is outside of the current scope and capacity of the British Corpus Vitrearum, these unpublished criteria provide a suitable starting point for discussion.
Of course, in an era of increased travel and communication possibilities, international exhibitions and art magazines, stained glass production did not exist in national vacuums. A shorter contribution by Sílvia Canellas reveals how one 20th-century Barcelonan stained glass studio, that of Rigalt & Granell, produced a number of windows that were partly derived or copied from designs by contemporary international artists as seen in subscription art magazines. This article, like others before it, raises the question of the place of stained glass design in the history of artistic copyright, and also underlines the importance of international influences, commissions and collaborations.
Questions remain about the precise criteria that should be applied to any national inventory projects relating to 19th and 20th-century stained glass, or whether such projects should be confined to national borders. Whilst the production of inventories and catalogues is essential groundwork, vital to the documentation and preservation of 19th and early 20th-century stained glass and our understanding of its cultural significance, it rarely provides enough context to paint the bigger picture. As this Folia issue demonstrates, there is a whole world of wider analysis and synthesis to be carried out on the artistic and cultural significance of 19th-century stained glass.
The paucity of publications on stained glass of this period – especially ones that are international in scope – mean that this Folia issue is a useful addition to the previous literature. Contributing essays demonstrate the potential for various lines of enquiry, but overall underline the need for future engagement from both 19th-century art historians and international members of the Corpus Vitrerarum. There still remain great opportunities for integrated international collaborative research projects that utilise many of the methodologies evidenced here, and the growing number of printed and digital catalogues, to enhance our understanding of the rich and diverse stained glass produced in the 19th and 20th centuries.
- The absence of contributors from France remains regrettable, especially given that medieval French stained glass was regarded as a model for 19th-century stained glass artists across Europe during the medium’s revival.
- Issue 116. The author of the current review, Jasmine Allen attended and participated in this conference.
- The resulting publication, International Seminar on Stained Glass of the 19th and 20th centuries: co-sponsored by the Society of Architectural Historians and the Census of Stained Glass Windows in America, Philadelphia, April 27-May 1, 1994. Abstracts, short papers, tour notes and roster of scholars, edited by Virginia Raguin, remains a useful source for anyone working on the period.