News

ICON Stained Glass Group Meeting 2022 - 29th October 2022

The Stained Glass Group will be holding their Annual Meeting and AGM in person at the Artworker’s Guild, Queen Square, London. The programme will include a morning of presentations, with a short AGM prior to lunch, in the Hall.  In the afternoon, there will be the opportunity to visit to the Chapel at Lincoln’s Inn and the Sir John Soane’s Museum.  This is a great opportunity for us all to meet up once again, and we will round off the day with an option for further networking at a local hostelry.

For more information and bookings please visit the ICON SGG webpage.


Medieval Treasures from the Glencairn Museum on Display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through Fall 2023

Michael W. Cothren

During the 1920s and 1930s, Philadelphia lawyer, businessman, and political activist Raymond Pitcairn (1885–1966) gathered one of the largest and finest collections of medieval architectural arts in America. He did not set out to be a collector, nor did he initially see these works as a private collection. They were acquired to form a study collection of inspirational models for the artists who were working in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylavia, to realize his father John Pitcairn’s project to build a neo-Gothic cathedral for their New Church (Swedenborgian Christian) community in suburban Philadelphia. But at some point during this gathering of medieval sculpture and stained glass, Raymond Pitcairn’s focus shifted to the establishment of a private collection rather than to provide an educational tool. He built Glencairn in 1928–1939 as a new, large private home, not only for his wife Mildred Glenn Pitcairn and their nine children, but also as ‘a little castle’ for his collection. To avoid disrupting the lives of his family, access to these works was given to scholars only on rare occasions, though opportunities increased after Pitcairn’s death in 1966, when a few of them were included in exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1968 (Medieval Art from Private Collections), 1970 (The Year 1200), and most extensively in 1982 (Radiance and Reflection).

Pitcairn’s collection of medieval stained glass is huge. The US Corpus Vitrearum volume on the Glencairn Museum that I am currently writing will contain full entries for almost 200 panels, most (but not all) from France and dating to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.(( For a checklist of medieval glass in the collection, see Madeline H. Caviness, et al. Stained Glass before 1700 in American Collections: Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern Seaboard States [Corpus Vitrearum: United States of America, Checklist II]. Studies in the History of Art 23. Washington, D. C., 1987, pp. 102-47: available at https://corpusvitrearum.us/checklists-usa/)) These works became even more broadly known after the death of Mildred Glenn Pitcairn in 1979, when both the house and the collections were donated to the Academy of the New Church in Bryn Athyn. In 1982 Glencairn opened as a museum, and many of the most important works of medieval sculpture and stained glass were installed so that visitors, as well as scholars, could observe and examine them closely, in some cases illuminated by natural light as they were intended to be seen. Over the last few years, however, it has become increasingly apparent that the infrastructure of this magnificent building is in critical need of renewal and renovation, requiring the closing of Glencairn through Fall 2023 to facilitate that work.

There has been a long history of cooperation between Pitcairn and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, dating back to the 1930s when he loaned the Museum about 70 works, mainly sculpture since he thought the challenges of exhibiting stained glass were too complicated. Some of these loans eventually became gifts. Because of this history, and because he did not want some of the most stunning and significant works at Glencairn to be unavailable over this period of renovation and renewal, Brian Henderson, Director of the Glencairn Museum, approached Jack Hinton, Henry P. McIlhenny Curator of European Decorative Arts & Sculpture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to discuss the possibility of a loan exhibition while Glencairn was closed to the public. The result of these discussions is a room in Philadelphia now filled with eighteen of the greatest works from Glencairn, including among them nine spectacular panels of stained glass. The exhibition will remain at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through Fall 2023.

Fig. 1 © Philadelphia Museum of Art, reproduced with permission

One wall in the room—seen straight ahead as visitors enter from the main hallway—presents a row of five figural scenes that were once in four lower-story windows in French Gothic churches, large and small (Fig. 1). They were originally part of large narrative ensembles, designed to remind medieval viewers of key theological ideas (e.g., the Incarnation, the Resurrection of the Dead, the power of the saints to intervene in the lives of the faithful), or to provide moral lessons as visual sermons. These ideas were embodied in the telling of the tales—here the early life of Jesus, the late life of John the Baptist, and the lives of saints, both familiar (Nicholas) and obscure (the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus). The panel highlighted at the center of this installation is undoubtedly the most important work of stained glass at Glencairn—an iconographically interesting representation of the ‘Flight into Egypt’ that is also now the best-preserved surviving panel from Abbot Suger’s revolutionary glazing of the choir of the abbey church of Saint-Denis, created c.1144–45. The striking radiance of the colors—especially the blues and reds—and the detailed articulation of the painting bear witness to the splendor of the window from which this panel came. On one side of this highlighted scene are two scenes from the Seven Sleepers window once in the nave aisle of the cathedral of Rouen, an ensemble highlighting a story related to the English royal tradition through the life of Edward the Confessor, and allowing us to date the window with rare precision between 1200 and 1203. On the other side of the ‘Flight into Egypt’, are two exceptionally well-preserved scenes dating from the 1230s made for more modest churches than cathedrals or powerful abbeys. One panel is a medallion portraying ‘Salome’s dance before Herod’—a dinner-time diversion that led to the martyrdom of the saint—from a modest window in a parish church at Breuil-le-Vert (Oise), and the other, whose shape situated it at the top of its lancet, portrays the grisly murder of three clerics that set up a famous miracle of St. Nicholas in a window from a church in Santeny (Val-de-Marne).

Fig. 2. © Philadelphia Museum of Art, reproduced with permission

Also included in this exhibition is a personification of ‘Synagogue’ from a symbolic passion window (Fig. 2), probably made in the late twelfth century for the glazing of the abbey church of Saint-Remi in Reims. Not only is almost all the glass medieval, but there are surprisingly few cracks, and the light corrosion is remarkably unobtrusive. But the greatest surprise here is the survival of the original medieval leading. The leads will look unusually thin to modern viewers since we are accustomed to seeing medieval stained glass held together with broader, modern lead cames, transforming the leading into a dominant aspect of the visual appearance. Here, since the width of the widest brush stroke is equivalent to the width of the lead cames themselves, the leaded framework “reads” as part of the linear painting system rather than as an independent means of support. Few surviving panels of medieval stained glass give us such a faithful representation of the original appearance of Gothic stained-glass windows.

Juxtaposed on another wall are two products of the late thirteenth-century fashion for using grisaille as a prominent part of stained-glass window design. Both panels date to the 1270s and are from western France—a portrayal of the ‘Visitation’ from Sainte-Radegonde in Poitiers that is set into a grisaille field, and a panel comprised exclusively of foliate ornament and grisaille, once part of a band window at the Noman cathedral of Sées. Since unlike many early twentieth-century American collectors of medieval stained glass, Raymond Pitcairn showed as much interest in ornamental panels as he did in figural panels, it is fitting that ornament is featured in this small exhibition of Glencairn treasures. There is also an exquisitely painted ornamental border panel from Suger’s glazing of Saint-Denis.

If readers of Vidimus who are interested in medieval stained glass find themselves in Philadelphia over the next year, I strongly urge them to plan a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art so they can see these extraordinary treasures from Glencairn. And this small exhibition is not limited to stained glass. It also includes sculpture, including the finely carved head of a king by ‘Gislebertus’ from Autun, and an ivory box carved c.1000 in northern Spain. But for us, the principal treasures in this room are made of painted glass.


Roland Sanfaçon, Emeritus, University Laval (26 July 1934 - 30 October 2021)

Like many French-Canadians of his generation, Roland Sanfaçon looked to France for his academic formation. After his undergraduate training at Université Laval in Quebec City, he went to France for his upper degrees, at the Université de Poitiers (1957–59) and the École Pratique des Hautes Études and the Sorbonne in Paris where he took a seminar with Élie Lambert (1959–63), studying both Medieval History and Medieval Art History. During this time his passion for late medieval Flamboyant Gothic architecture blossomed. While pursuing his doctoral degree, Roland returned to Québec to take up a teaching position at Laval in 1960 as a lecturer in History and from 1965 as a professor, then from 1969 until his retirement in 1997 as a professor of Art History. During those years, he supervised a large number of master’s students, some on the study of medieval stained glass.  ((C. Desmeules, Le passage du Moyen Âge à la Renaissance dans le vitrail: étude du réseau de plomb (1989), K. Macias-Valadez, Ornementation rayonnante et décors flamboyants dans les vitraux du tympan à la fin du Moyen Âge en France (1994), M. Girard, Les roses flamboyantes en France (1995).))

His doctoral dissertation on medieval history was eventually published by the Presses de l’Université Laval in 1967 as Défrichements, peuplement et institutions seigneuriales en Haut-Poitou du XIe au XIIIe siècle.  His return to Laval coincided, however, with the introduction of Art History into a still exclusively historical curriculum, and Roland’s propensity for the material considerations of history were to transform – or broaden – him from a historian into an art historian, with a particular focus on medieval French architecture. In 1969, he was entrusted with the foundation programme in Art History, and two years later, he published his ground-breaking L’Architecture flamboyante en France, which established him as a major scholar.((R. Sanfaçon, L’architecture flamboyante en France, Sainte-Foy, Presses de l’Université Laval, 1971.)) Roland’s studies of Gothic architecture also awoke an interest in stained glass which he saw as inseparable from the architecture. He spent years observing and reflecting on the correspondences existing  between construction in stone and in glass.  His interest in stained glass was fueled by the arrival in Québec during the early 1970s of a considerable collection of premodern stained glass, thanks to his colleague, Prof. Jean-Guy Violette, who acquired a large portion of the collection of stained glass of the Parisian dealer Michel Acézat at an auction sale, at the Hôtel Drouot, in 1969.((The auction sale took place at the Hôtel Drouot on the 24 and 25 November 1969; see Vente après décès A. Ancienne collection de M. Michel Acézat …, Vente Hôtel Drouot, Salle no. 6, les lundi 24 et mardi 25 novembre 1969 (Paris, 1969).)) More collections drew the attention of Roland Sanfaçon in the period that followed the donation, by Jean-Guy Violette, of 13 panels of stained glass to the University Laval, particularly those of the Musée des Beaux-Arts and of McGill University in Montréal, and the panels from Les Portes Cartier in the Château de Ramezay in Montréal and the collections of the Musée du Séminaire, in Sherbrooke.

In 1984, at the instigation of Jane Hayward of the American Committee, Roland formed the  Canadian Committee of the Corpus Vitrearum and acted as its President from 1984 until 2019, and he also served as the Vice-President of the International Corpus Vitrearum from 1995 to 2000. It is important to recall the importance of Roland’s contribution to the safeguarding and dissemination of antique stained glass collections in Canada, as evidenced by his publications on the subject,((R. Sanfaçon, ‘Panels of a Jessé tree of the 15th century in Quebec: in search of a workshop of “miniaturists”’, in Corpus Vitrearum: Tagung für Glasmalereiforschung, Ellen Judith Beer Ed., Akten des 16. Internationalen Kolloquiums in Bern, 1991, Bern and Stuttgart: Verlag P. Haupt, 1991, 72-75; ‘L’arbre de Jessé réinventé dans le vitrail en France vers 1445-1450: le témoignage de quatre panneaux conservés à Québec’, in Gesta, 37 (1998), 251-257; ‘Les dais dans le vitrail et dans l’architecture au XVe siècle en France’, in Représentations architecturales dans les vitraux, Actes du XXIe colloque international du Corpus Vitrearum, Bruxelles, 22-27 août 2002, Bruxelles, Dossier de la Commission royale des Monuments, Sites et Fouilles, 9, 2002, 129-137;  ‘Le sacré et le vitrail dans les traités du Moyen Âge’, in Le vitrail et les traités du Moyen Âge à nos jours.  Proceedings of the XXIII International Colloquium of the Corpus Vitrearum, Tours, 3-7 July 2006, Ed. K. Boulanger and M. Hérold, Bern, Peter Lang, 2008, 133-148; ‘Lilies and castiles in stained glass in France’, in Österreichische Zeitschrift für Kunst und Denkmalpflege, 11 (2012), 293-308.)) but also his involvement in the donation and transfer of the rest of the collection of stained glass belonging to Jean-Guy Violette and his brother, Claude, to the Université Laval in 2016, because Roland believed that this imposing collection deserved to be well showcased, and to be easily accessible to the members of the Canadian committee in preparation for the  publication of the second Canadian Corpus Vitrearum monograph.((This second donation of stained glass by Jean-Guy and Claude Violette increased the collection of the University Laval by approximately 2000 pieces, that comprised many fragments; on this recent donation, see:  https://nouvelles.ulaval.ca/2016/08/16/une-collection-haute-en-couleur-ba99afedb6855ad216c37184b1e2cbcb (accessed August 10, 2022).))

Roland valued humanist thought more than anything. His knowledge was immeasurable. When travelling, he demonstrated interest in everything. Despite the long hours of observing and photographing the churches of France, sometimes until dusk, even if it meant lighting their portals with the headlights of his car, he always managed to insert into his program some cultural activities, sometimes an evening at the opera, a theatre play, a ‘son & lumière’ show, or a visit to an art gallery. But he was a hard worker. Every year, since the beginning of his career, he left for Europe, devoting several weeks to the study of French monuments that he visited at the rate of 7 to 8 churches a day. He observed them, photographed them, took notes, taking great care to identify each photo shot to facilitate their identification once back home, and for several years he even made a habit of developing his photographic films himself in his hotel room using a portable darkroom, to ensure that he had succeeded in all his shots before returning to Canada. 

Roland looked at everything, and always sought to compare, in order to better understand the essence of things. Sitting at the table of a small terrace in the heart of Antwerp in 2018, during his last participation in a Corpus Vitrearum colloquium, he rejoiced at the sight of a rooster and his hen strolling on the square as if they were a couple going shopping before returning to their hen house across the square. Of course, Roland proposed, with great caution, an explanation for their behavior, which made us, his colleagues and friends, smile. That was so typical of Roland.

He always traveled with a bilingual dictionary, trying to add one more language to his memory, learning new terms from that new language sometimes late at night in his hotel room, and constantly taking notes in small notebooks he made of recycled paper; all of this was all part of the knowledge of the world. His fascination with languages was confirmed by the discovery of a method of indexing Chinese characters based on their visual forms, and which earned Roland worldwide recognition when he published his Chinese-French Kuaisu Shunchang Dictionary in 1997.((R. Sanfaçon, Dictionnaire kuaisu shunchang chinois-français. Les caractères chinois tout naturellement accessibles, Sainte-Foy, Presses de l’Université Laval, 2nd edition 2012 (1997).)) In a way, Roland liked to ‘identify the hidden meaning of complex forms through comparison and contextualization’, a method he applied, as well, to the study of Late Gothic architecture.((R. Larochelle, “Vive les radicaux libres!”, interview with R. Sanfaçon, 12 March 1998, published in Au fil des événementshttps://archives.nouvelles.ulaval.ca/Au.fil.des.evenements/1998/03.12/dictionnaire.html)) His interest in comparative studies led him, among other things, to even direct a master’s thesis on the spatial organization of Chinese houses of the Ming and Qing periods, and that of French houses of the fifteenth century.((Ying Zhao, Les maisons chinoises des dynasties Ming et Qing et les demeures françaises de la fin du Moyen Âge: étude comparée de l’organisation spatiale, M.A. thesis, Université Laval, 1998.))

Roland Sanfaçon was active in a remarkably wide range of research until he was diagnosed with cancer. Yet, just a few days before his death, he had told us about two research projects that he hoped to be able to complete before the big departure: one on the great religions of the world, and the other on the nomenclature of the villages of France. He lived to see the publication of a combined Festschrift and re-edition of his seminal publication in 2020, edited by Stéphanie Diane Daussy as L’Architecture flamboyante en France: Autour de Roland Sanfaçon, but due to the Covid lockdown, a planned book launch could not take place before he passed away on 30 October of last year.((R. Sanfaçon, L’architecture flamboyante en France: Autour de Roland Sanfaçon, Stéphanie Diane Daussy Ed., Villeneuve-d’Ascq, Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2020.)) He left a legacy both of students, including Canadian Corpus member Claire Labrecque, whose doctoral dissertation he supervised,((C. Labrecque, La chapelle du Saint-Esprit de Rue, Picardie: étude historique, architecturale et iconographique d’un monument de la fin du Moyen Âge, PhD dissertation, Université Laval, 2008.)) and of scholarly works.  He will certainly be missed both in Canada and by the international scholarly community.

Claire LaBrecque & Jim Bugslag


Glaskunst im Museum. Kontextualisierung, Inszenierung und Storytelling, 5 November 2022, Historisches Museum Thurgau in association with the Vitrocentre, Romont

Venue: Historisches Museum ThurgauSchloss Frauenfeld
Rathausplatz 2
8500 FrauenfeldSwitzerland

For more information, please visit https://historisches-museum.tg.ch