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Richard Butler at Lincoln’s Inn Chapel: Some Technical Observations
The period up to the outbreak of the Civil War witnessed a revived interest in figural and narrative schemes of glazing, after a post-Reformation lull in which heraldic displays had provided one of the few outlets for the glazier’s craft. By the early seventeenth century the Holborn area of London had replaced Southwark as the centre for stained-glass artists in the capital, conveniently located in the vicinity of the Inns of Court and Chancery and close to potential clients, and this shift in geographical location clearly bore fruit.1 Lincoln’s Inn chapel was consecrated on Ascension Day (22 May) 1623 in the presence of its preacher, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, the celebrated poet John Donne (1572-1631).2 It boasts one of the most important surviving collections of early seventeenth-century stained glass in England. The pioneering scholarship of Michael Archer, whose life is celebrated in Tim Ayers’ tribute elsewhere in this issue of Vidimus, first established the significance of the three artists responsible for this glazing scheme, Richard Butler and the brothers Bernard and Abraham Van Linge.3 The windows of Lincoln’s Inn Chapel combine striking monumental figures with brilliant and intricate displays of heraldry reflecting the identity of the wealthy and well-connected subscribers to the glazing fund.
The Chapel windows were installed between 1623 and 1624 to fill the six windows on the north and south sides of the chapel, with depictions of the twelve apostles in the three windows on the south side, dated 1623, and patriarchs, prophets and saints in the three north windows, dated 1624 (Fig. 1).4 Each figure stands on a pedestal decorated with a heraldic shield. Two of the windows (nIII and sIII) are by the London glazier Richard Butler (d. 1638 Fig. 2). Three windows were executed by Abraham van Linge (originally nII, nIII, nIV) and one by his older brother Bernard van Linge (window sIV), both natives of Emden in northern Germany, close to the Dutch border. Bernard had arrived in London via Paris in 1621 and in the following year was commissioned to make the east window of Wadham College, Oxford.5 His brother Abraham followed him to England and remained after Bernard’s departure in 1628. Abraham was responsible for glazing schemes at Lincoln College (1629-30) and Balliol College (1637) in Oxford. Indeed, the Lincoln College windows were made to some of the same cartoons. Abraham was to remain in England until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642.
The chapel windows have been repaired, restored and reorganised several times, notably in 1883 when an extra bay was added at the west end of the chapel and the glass was moved about, disrupting the original scheme (Fig. 3). A considerable amount of heraldic commemorative glass has been added to the scheme, a process that continues to this day. The most serious damage was incurred following bomb blast from a Zeppelin raid in 1915. Two of the windows by Abraham van Linge were lost as a result, but in the 1920s the eminent firm of Kempe & Co. was entrusted with the restoration of what survived. The restorations have been undertaken with great skill and sensitivity and are often hard to spot (Fig. 4). In the 1990s window sIII was almost completely re-leaded, but underlying problems causing progressive loss of the coloured enamels, especially the blue, were not addressed, so that deterioration continued unchecked. In a conservation campaign launched in the summer of 2020, the York Glaziers Trust began a phased programme of conservation which will clean, repair and stabilise the glass and coloured enamels, and will return the windows to the chapel with the benefit of internally ventilated environmental protective glazing (EPG). The studio-based conservation has highlighted some fascinating technical differences in the workshop practices of the English and Netherlandish collaborators.
In 1608 Richard Butler, then still ‘of Southwark’, first appears in the historical record, when he was employed by Robert Cecil (1563–1612) Elizabeth I’s secretary of state, to supply armorial glass for the New Exchange in the Strand (since lost). In the following year he was paid for his collaboration with the French glazier Lewis Dolphin in creating twelve Biblical scenes for the staircase window at Cecil’s palatial residence, Hatfield House in Hertfordshire.6 By 1622, Richard had moved with his wife Rebecca to Chancery Lane and it was in the church of St Andrew, Holborn that his four children were baptised.7 His burgeoning reputation and his workshop’s proximity to the Inns of Court may have been the main factors in securing the work at Lincoln’s Inn, although Geoffrey Lane has suggested that it may have been Thomas Langton, churchwarden of St Stephen, Walbrook, and ‘something of a would-be entrepreneur in the field of glass-painting’, who played a part in bringing Richard Butler and the Van Linge brothers together for this important commission.8 As we have seen, Butler already had experience collaborating with ‘foreign’ artists, while the Van Linge’s relations with London glaziers had been uncomfortable, and this was their only project in the capital.
Archer’s work has shed much new light on the degree to which Continental print sources revitalised stained glass design in England in the early seventeenth-century. He has established, for example, that by 1609 Butler was already adapting compositions by Jerome Wierix and Marten de Vos for his version of Jonah and the whale at Hatfield House, and prints by Jacob Matham after Golztius were to inform the diminutive figures of the Virtues in his heraldic panels at Lincoln’s Inn.9 The arrival of a new wave of immigrant glass-painters probably also accelerated the use of a wide range of enamel colours. What has not been observed, or at least, has not been recorded in print, is the fact that Butler, unlike the Van Linge’s with whom he was working at Lincoln’s Inn, was continuing to use the full gamut of traditional medieval glazing techniques alongside the more avant-garde vitreous enamels that became the hallmark of so much glazing practice in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Close examination of Butler’s glass on the bench has revealed the persistence in his work of two of the most challenging techniques used by the medieval glazier: the audacious drilling and insertion of ‘jewels’, and the laborious abrading of complex shapes into the surface of flashed ruby glass. These were techniques that emerged in English stained glass in the course of the fifteenth century and are often associated with intricate and small-scale work such as the embellishment of clerical vestments and heraldry.10 They predominate in projects for elite patrons with deep pockets. While Butler, in common with the Van Linge brothers, makes extensive use of enamel colours in both of his windows, he combines the new materials with these older and extremely challenging embellishments, a perilous operation given the extraordinary thinness of the glass (only 2–3mm). In the arms of James Hay, Earl of Carlisle d.1636 (argent three escutcheons gules, nIII, 1d, Fig. 5), for example, two of the three ruby escutcheons have been inserted by drilling into the base white glass (Fig. 6). In creating the impaled arms of Thomas Fane, baron Despencer (d. 1589, sIII, 1d, Fig. 7), Butler uses the same technique to create the lower of three charges in the dexter side of the shield (azure three dexter gauntlets or). In both cases, the drilled glasses have escaped releading by later restorers, giving us a glimpse of Butler’s dexterous handling of very delicate lead calmes.
Butler also abraded ruby flashed glass, leaving behind the tell-tale scratches at the junction of flash and base glass. Abrasion of a flashed glass is often combined in medieval practice with the application of silver stain and in Butler’s working of the sinister side of the Fane arms described above, this is also the case. The golden crosses crosslet and the rampant lion on red ground (Fig. 8) are all achieved in this way, by abrading a ruby flash and adding silver stain. He uses the same combination in the treatment of flashed ruby sections of the arms of Francis Fane, earl of Westmorland (d.1629), in panel 1b of the same window. Butler also uses abrasion in combination with the application of coloured enamel, notably in the arms of William Herbert, earl of Pembroke (d.1630) in nIII, 1b, where in the upper dexter quarter ruby flash has been extensively abraded and then coloured with blue enamel to create per pale gules and azure three lions rampant argent (Fig. 9).11
A good case can be made for heraldry as a driver for technical change in late medieval stained glass, and the early adoption of coloured enamels is often attributed to the ease with which glaziers could use them to accommodate increasingly complex heraldry, in which devices are represented on a smaller and smaller scale. This is certainly the case in the work of Bernard van Linge at Lincoln’s Inn, where all his heraldic panels rely on enamels (Fig. 10). It is therefore intriguing to see that in the work of Richard Butler in the two adjoining windows and dated the same year, two demanding and indeed potentially risky processes continued to be preferred over the faster, easier and less perilous application of an enamel colour. Elsewhere in his windows Butler displays his mastery of enamels, so this must have been a considered decision on his part. A century later, when flashed ruby glass was difficult to source, the pursuit of a ruby copper stain became a priority for glass-painters like William Peckitt (1731-95)12, so the superiority of a flashed ruby over a red stain may well have been Butler’s motivation, making the considerable risks involved worth his while. Whatever the explanation, it is clear that the transition from late medieval to post medieval glazing practices was more gradual than we are wont to think, and extended beyond just the continued use of integrated leading and pot-metal coloured glasses. It is also evidence that the closer technical examination of these works first celebrated in the writings of Michael Archer is called for. The author would be interested in hearing the observations of others on this fascinating subject.
I am grateful to my colleague Sophie Gwynn for her comments on this paper. Any errors that remain are my own!
The York Glaziers Trust and University of York
- Geoffrey Lane, ‘A world turned upside down: London glass-painters 1600-1660’, The Journal of Stained Glass, XXIX (2005), 45-75.
- Donne’s name appears in panel 1d of nIII.
- Michael Archer, ‘Richard Butler, Glass-Painter’, Burlington Magazine 132 (May 1990), 308-315 and ‘English Painted Glass in the Seventeenth Century: The Early Work of Abraham van Linge’ Apollo (January 1975), 27-31.
- In inscription dated 1626 in the base of sIII, 1b, in a different style to those in adjoining lights, is probably a slightly later insertion into the window, as all the main pedestals in sIII are dated 1623.
- A. Faludy, ‘Linge, Bernard van [formerly Berent van Lingen]’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online, https://doi-org.libproxy.york.ac.uk/10.1093/ref:odnb/53511.
- Archer, ‘Richard Butler’, 308.
- Archer, ‘Richard Butler’, 309, 311.
- Lane, ‘World turned upside down’, 48, 48, 53-4.
- Archer, ‘Richard Butler’, 310, 312.
- M. Stacey, ‘Artistic and Technical Dexterity: An investigation of medieval jewel techniques in stained glass’ in S. Brown, C. Loisel, A. Rambaut et. al., Stained Glass: Art at the Surface, York 2017, 42-58.
- In fact, Butler has made a heraldic error, as the quarter should display per pale azure and gules.
- R. G. Newton, and J.R. Taylor, ‘Peckitt’s eighteenth-century treatise: staining glass with red tones’, Glass Technology 32/2, April 1990 (69-71).