In January, Vidimus reported on Silver Stained Roundels and Unipartite Panels before the French Revolution in Flanders, Volume 1: The Province of Antwerp. The first in a planned series by art historian Cees Berserik and glass-restoration specialist Professor Joost Caen, the book highlights a fascinating branch of small-scale glass-painting that flourished in the Low Countries, mainly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Though commonly known as ‘roundels’, these panels come in various shapes, but are always painted on single panes of glass. Britain is fortunate in possessing a large number of these delightful works. Yet – as Geoffrey Lane reports – not all of them may be exactly what they seem.
In 1759, the glass-painter William Price the Younger was employed by Horace Walpole to create an appropriate setting for some Netherlandish glass he wished to set up in an extension to his ‘little Gothic castle’ at Strawberry Hill, at Twickenham. It is easy to dismiss the use of Renaissance glass to achieve a Gothic effect as naïve and absurd, but genuine medieval glass was virtually unobtainable in the mid-eighteenth century, while the Victorian revival of ‘true Gothic’ – pot-metal glass assembled in mosaic fashion – lay nearly a century in the future.
Walpole had been collecting such pieces at least since 1750, when he wrote to a friend that he had ‘got an immense cargo of painted glass from Flanders’. This Flemish glass, charming as it appeared in close-up, was largely monochrome when seen from a distance, since most roundels were painted only in silver-stain yellows and black or brown pigment; coloured enamel was used only sparingly in the sixteenth century, and its appearance is often taken to indicate a seventeenth-century or later origin. At first, Walpole overcame the problem by having his panels set in red, blue or yellow glass. But by 1759, he had another answer: as he noted, his Tribune Window at Strawberry Hill contained ‘four histories, all old, but finely re-coloured by Price’. Daniel and the Cheat of the Priests of Moloch (Fig. 1), and the Prodigal Receiving his Patrimony (Fig. 2) have been identified as two of these.
In his conservation report for the Strawberry Hill Trust, the Oxford glass-painter Paul San Casciani wrote of the Daniel picture: ‘Pigment, yellow stain: the background seated figure and surroundings are original. Price applied a pale flesh tint. He used red, blue and violet enamels on the clothes, then re-fired to make permanent. The original stain on the chequerboard tiling has been affected by re-firing.’ On the Prodigal he commented: ‘Pigment, yellow stain. Price applied a pale flesh tint. He used red, blue, violet and purple enamels on the clothes. The panel was then re-fired as the enamels can be seen to be translucent. This firing affected the tone, making it darker e.g. background figures top LH.’
William Price (1703 or 1707–1756) was a third-generation glass-painter, and had been a leading figure in his craft since the late 1720s. Like his father Joshua (1672–1722) and his grandfather William (d. 1710), he lived and worked in the Holborn district of London. By 1759, he was on the point of retirement (enabling William Peckitt to pick up where he left off). His own enamel work was among the finest (and most durable) of its time. So was this the first time he had re-coloured old roundels?
I was reminded of Walpole’s remark while studying the glass Price had provided in 1754 for Preston-on-Stour, near Stratford-on-Avon. The church there had just been remodelled by James West, a keen Gothicist and owner of nearby Alscot Park. The two side-windows of the chancel are pure Price, but the east window contains a considerable number of Flemish roundels and smaller oval panels. These are set against a brightly-coloured background of red- and blue diaper patterns and finely moulded gold frames, both characteristic Price devices (Fig. 3). Seen from a distance, it is obvious that a high proportion of the roundels are coloured, and that this helps them hold their own against the bright colours of Price’s setting. Figure 4 shows the two lowest scenes in the left-hand light.
In his Catalogue of Netherlandish and North European Roundels in Britain the late Dr William Cole noted that in the Joseph panel ‘the figures have some resemblance to those of Lambert Lombard’ (of Liège, 1506–66), yet he allocated the roundel in the seventeenth century, presumably on account of what he called its ‘very bright enamel’. He likewise placed its neighbour in the seventeenth century, noting its ‘light coloured enamel’. It is not clear whether Dr Cole had his own suspicions about these and other roundels at Preston-on-Stour – he only discusses the roundels, not the setting, and his own illustrations are in black and white – so I contacted the authors of the new Flemish book for their comments. Cees Berserik told me he had noticed re-coloured roundels at both Strawberry Hill and Preston-on-Stour; Professor Caen said they had not found any (yet) in the Netherlands, where interest in glass-painting, and enamelling in particular, slowly waned during the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but it was clear that enamel repainting was done in England in the eighteenth century. He said it was risky to extrapolate the information about Price to windows for which there was no documentary evidence; so far there was no scientific way to distinguish glass paints from the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, but microscopic analysis may indicate that paint had entered earlier scratches or corrosion craters.
For now, there is no such evidence for Preston-on-Stour, merely a strong suspicion. Further up the left light, adjacent panels depicting Christ on the Mount of Olives and the Crucifixion (Fig. 5) show impressive enamel colouring. However they came by it, whether in seventeenth-century Flanders or eighteenth-century London, it certainly helps them survive the bright blue, red and gold of their surrounds. Besides these and similar roundels, the Preston window contains a number of narrow ovals depicting saints with their customary attributes. They are of a very convenient size and shape to fit alongside single roundels in Price’s arrangement, and there are suspicions that he may even have painted them himself. Figure 6 shows one such group – The Betrayal and Arrest of Christ, flanked by Saints Philip and Jude.
What gives these suspicions greater weight is that three of the saints, though in different colours and slightly broader ovals, appear among the glass William Price installed in the windows at Strawberry Hill. Compare for instance the figures of Sts Matthias and James the Less in the two locations (Figs 7 and 8).
There is no doubt that the Preston-on-Stour windows were constructed by Price: a letter and his bill dated 18 December 1754 survive among the muniments at Alscot Park. Although not accessible at present, they are known to show that he had worked on the glass (perhaps intermittently) for two years. The commission included painted glass for the house, but this was sold after West’s death and has disappeared – the sale catalogue included ‘a large and capital gothic window for a chapel’, and ‘a window of most valuable paintings, in 16 pieces, for a chapel’.
Price was almost certainly introduced to James West by Sanderson Miller, a gentleman amateur whose importance as a landscape designer and Gothic architect has only recently come to be fully appreciated, partly because documentary evidence about him is thin and hard to evaluate. In his enigmatic diary, Miller recorded a visit to Alscot Park on 20 April 1750: ‘Went after breakfast with Bower to Mr West’s in one and a half hours on horseback. Mr Lyttelton there before us … Walking at Mr West’s about the park. Seeing painted glass. Drawing plan for Mr West. Stayed all night.’ Less than a month later, on 1 May, Miller was in London and noted: ‘Went to Lord North, and with Mr Keene to Mr Hoskins; and to see fine window at Price’s. Dined with Lord Chancellor his two sons and ladies. To go to Wimpole in August.’ (I quote Miller’s abbreviated entries as expanded by the editor, William Hawkes.)
Of course these brief notes do not indicate precisely what Miller discussed with Price. West’s glass and his plans for the house and church were still fresh in his mind, but so too was the prospect of visiting the Lord Chancellor (Philip Yorke, Earl of Hardwicke), who had plans to transform his house and grounds at Wimpole, near Cambridge – another scheme in which Miller would take an active part. This project already had, or was about to acquire, a stained-glass element: in November 1750, Miller received a letter from his friend and client Sir George Lyttelton of Hagley Hall (who had also been at Alscot Park). It concerned some armorial glass obtained by Miller which related to the Lord Chancellor’s ancestors: ‘… I could not answer your Letter till I had an opportunity to see my Lord Chancellour. He seemed extreamly desirous of having the Glass, if they are the arms of his family, viz., a Salter azure in an Argent Field, but there are Yorkes to whom he is not related, and who have a different bearing …’. (Letters to Sanderson Miller, p. 177, see below)
Seventeenth-century armorial panels that correspond to Lyttelton’s description were indeed included in decorative windows made for Hardwicke; three of these windows are in Wimpole church, rebuilt by Henry Flitcroft c.1749, and a fourth, which includes a large figure of King David playing the harp, has migrated to another mansion of the Yorke family, Erddig, near Wrexham. The Wimpole and Erddig windows were firmly attributed to Price in Michael Archer’s groundbreaking article of 1985 (see below). Though set with old armorials rather than old ‘histories’, they have a close affinity with the Preston glass, and the two commissions may well have been tackled in tandem. Sanderson Miller, it seems, had a good deal to do with securing work from both West and Hardwicke for a glass-painter he clearly admired.
I am particularly grateful to Dr Michael Peover for help in the preparation of this article.
On William Price the Younger, see Michael Archer, ‘Stained Glass at Erddig and the Work of William Price’, Apollo, xccii, October 1985, pp. 252–63, and Christopher Rowell, ‘Stained Glass by John Rowell and William Price the Younger at The Vyne’, Burlington Magazine, cxlv, June 2003, pp. 443–51.
On Strawberry Hill, see Michael Peover, ‘Strawberry Hill… Horace Walpole’s Stained Glass’, Country Life, 26 October 1995, and Anna Eavis and Michael Peover, ‘Horace Walpole’s Painted Glass at Strawberry Hill’, Journal of Stained Glass, xix/3 (1994/95), pp. 280–313.
On roundels, see William Cole, Catalogue of Netherlandish and North European Roundels in Britain, CVMA (GB) Summary Catalgoue 1, Oxford, 1993.
On Sanderson Miller, see The Diaries of Sanderson Miller of Radway, ed. William Hawkes, Dugdale Society, XLI, 2005; An Eighteenth Century Correspondence … letters to Sanderson Miller, ed. Lilian Dickins and Mary Stanton, London, 1910; and Jennifer Meir, Sanderson Miller and his Landscapes, Phillimore, 2006.