- Vidimus - https://www.vidimus.org -


‘Curiosities of the Cloister’: A Sale of Stained Glass in 1773

Editor’s Introduction

This month we are delighted to reproduce a never previously published catalogue of an important sale of stained glass held in London in 1773.

Vidimus is extremely grateful to Geoffrey Lane for making his ground-breaking research into this sale available to a wider audience.

Attitudes to stained glass in England during the eighteenth century were markedly different from the iconoclasm of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when countless windows were destroyed by religious zealots. One indicator of the changing attitudes was a resurgence of interest in the art of glass-painting among the educated elite and the collection of displaced panels, mainly from the Continent, a vogue that lasted roughly from 1750 to 1850. This revival is often associated with Horace Walpole (1717–97), the son of Britain’s first modern prime minister, Robert Walpole. Best known today as an art historian and novelist, Horace Walpole collected and displayed stained glass as part of the interior decoration of his home, Strawberry Hill, Twickenham (now south-west London). Such glass was not collected for its iconographical meaning, but rather as evidence of its owner’s good taste, artistic ‘eye’, and the attractive coloured surrounds in which glaziers set these mainly northern European monochromatic roundels and single panels. Within a few years, other connoisseurs were following suit, and a market developed for such panels, many of which dated from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The sale catalogue transcribed by Geoffrey Lane and published here provides a unique insight into this world. Geoffrey’s work in identifying some of the panels described in the catalogue and discovering their current whereabouts is an added bonus. Although more still needs to be done to discover the fate of other panels, Geoffrey’s contribution will be invaluable.

Curiosities of the Cloister

Fig. 1. A copy of the catalogue snapped in 1928

Fig. 1. A copy of the catalogue snapped in 1928

In March 1773, a ‘beautiful collection of rare old stained or painted glass’ representing ‘the perfection of that justly-admired art’ went on show in the crumbling remains of Essex House in the Strand, former London home of Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. The exhibition consisted of 285 pieces imported from the Low Countries, and set in ‘nine large and superb Gothic frames’. It was staged by book seller turned auctioneer Samuel Paterson (1728–1802), who used Essex House as his saleroom. His flimsy but unusually detailed catalogue, A Particular of the Cloister, allows us to savour a significant moment in the eighteenth-century vogue for ‘Gothic’ architecture and painted glass initiated by Horace Walpole and others some 20 years earlier. The transcript below was taken from the copy in the National Art Library (General Collection, pressmark 89 E Box). The dog-eared title page of another copy, with slightly different typography, was reproduced in 1928 in the Journal of the British Society of Master Glass-Painters. This has not been traced, although the caption stated that it came from the Victoria and Albert Museum Library. [Fig 1]

The nine windows of Paterson’s ‘Cloister’ displayed a profusion of Netherlandish unipartite panels – rounds, ovals, squares and ‘upright histories’ – set in decorative glass that varied in colour from window to window. The central lights also contained larger leaded panels – ten forming a Life of Christ, and another seven from a Life & Miracles of St Thomas Aquinas. Since the two series were identical in size – each 2ft 1in. by 1ft 9in. (63 x 53cm) – it is even possible their story-lines intersected: window VII displayed the Crucifixion, and above it ‘A Vision of St THOMAS AQUINAS, representing CHRIST Crucified; a Label issuing from the Cross, with this Inscription, Bene scripsisti de me THOMA’ (‘You have written well of me, Thomas’). Where these panels came from – and where they went afterwards – remain to be discovered, but they could well have originated in a glazed cloister somewhere in the Catholic Low Countries.

Fig. 2. A Farrier’s Shop (or Shoeing a Horse). © Geoffrey Lane, by kind permission of the curators of the Bodleian Library.

Fig. 2. A Farrier’s Shop (or Shoeing a Horse). © Geoffrey Lane, by kind permission of the curators of the Bodleian Library.

Close to the two Crucifixions, with little regard for subject-matter, Paterson placed an oval that particularly caught his fancy, describing it as follows: A Farrier’s Shop, in a large round, 1579. This is one of the finest pieces of Stained Glass, considering the Age, Drawing, Colouring, and Preservation, which the late Proprietor of the Cloister remembers ever to have seen. We’ll return to the mysterious ‘late Proprietor’ further on. The panel itself, not previously identified as such, can be seen today in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, in the Selden End of Duke Humfrey’s Library. [Fig. 2]

In his CVMA Catalogue of Netherlandish and North European Roundels in Britain, William Cole called it Shoeing a Horse, and gave it his catalogue number 1615. It is certainly a charming scene – the farrier kneeling on the cobbled street to nail the shoe, while the customer grasps the bridle of his sleek but somewhat undersized horse. The artist clearly had some difficulty in bringing the design within the confines of the roundel shape. Forge and bellows can be seen inside the shop, which backs onto a placid canal, with a grander house beyond. The Bodleian’s records show that its extensive collection of roundels was donated in 1797 by the Oxford antiquarian Alderman William Fletcher (1729–1836), along with some larger medieval English panels. Fletcher must have acquired A Farrier’s Shop at Paterson’s 1773 exhibition, or fairly soon afterwards.

Fig. 3. Ahasuerus’ Feast. © Geoffrey Lane, courtesy of the curators of the Bodleian

Fig. 3. Ahasuerus’ Feast. © Geoffrey Lane, courtesy of the curators of the Bodleian

Fig. 4. Hamaan’s Procession. © Geoffrey Lane, courtesy of the curators of the Bodleian

Fig. 4. Hamaan’s Procession. © Geoffrey Lane, courtesy of the curators of the Bodleian

Alderman Fletcher appears to have passed on several more Cloister exhibits to the Bodleian: window VI included The History of HAMAN, in three large ovals, 1596. It seems reasonable to identify two of these with Ahasuerus and Esther feast with Hamaan and Hamaan’s Procession – Cole cat. nos. 1513 and 1516 – both of which are indeed dated 1596. [Figs 3 and 4]

Similarly, Cole’s cat. 1576, ‘The Bust of a Man, dated 1627’, is very likely the panel Paterson placed at the head of window VIII, describing it as A portrait of a Jesuit, 1627, very fine. [Fig. 5]

An undated oval displayed in window VI, The Woman taken in Adultery, could be Cole cat. 1470, Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery, though the subject is by no means uncommon. A handful of other undated roundels may also survive at the Bodleian, described by Paterson too vaguely to be identified. Among these are panels depicting country life, animals and birds, and a series of ‘coat-armours’. By contrast, none has so far been identified in the Oxfordshire churches where remnants of Fletcher’s glass collection ended up after his death in 1826. Nor do they seem to figure elsewhere in Dr Cole’s admittedly incomplete catalogue of roundels in Britain, or in Timothy Husband’s CVMA checklist of those in American collections. The melancholy conclusion must be that most of Paterson’s 268 roundels have disappeared since 1773, along with all 17 of the larger panels.

Fig. 6. Apocalyptic scene at Hurstpierpoint. © Martin Beek

Fig. 6. Apocalyptic scene at Hurstpierpoint. © Martin Beek

If they did still exist, some of the missing pieces would be eye-catching enough. Paterson mentions six Triumphs of the Apocalypse, in large old rounds, split between windows II, IV and VI. It would be tempting to identify these with some of the eighteen circular designs for an Apocalypse cycle by Dirick Vellert, none of which is known to have survived in glass (Husband, The Luminous Image, pp. 147–49). But few of Vellert’s scenes could strictly be called ‘triumphs’. One roundel that could conceivably fit Paterson’s description but cannot be linked with the Cloister exhibition survives at Holy Trinity Church, Hurstpierpoint, Sussex. This splendid scene (not by Vellert) apparently shows the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse at full gallop. [Fig. 6]

Paterson probably bought much of his glass during a tour of the Low Countries in 1766 – described in his travelogue Another Traveller, by Coryat Junior (1767). Though an avowed Protestant, he visited a number of abbeys and convents, and many of the roundels he acquired were on overtly Roman Catholic subjects, which perhaps did not appeal to English buyers. But there were secular subjects too – among them a View of the Spanish Fleet dated 1631 and several panels adapted from modern genre painters – two Conversations and a Dutch Merrymaking by Teniers (elder or younger?), and ‘a pair of landscapes, very elegant’ by Berghem (Berchem).

It is not clear what Paterson meant by the ‘late Proprietor of the Cloister’ in his description of The Farrier’s Shop. John A. Knowles, writing in the Journal of Stained Glass in 1951, wrongly assumed Paterson himself had recently died, and other glass historians have echoed this misunderstanding – in fact he died in 1802 of an infected wound, after tripping over a dog kennel left at the foot of some steps. Most likely Paterson was trying to foster the illusion that his nine ‘superb Gothic frames’ were the property of a recently deceased gentleman of taste – someone like James West, former patron of William Price the younger (see Vidimus no. 17). West died in 1772, and Paterson – a dedicated bibliographer – spent the early part of 1773 laboriously cataloguing his superb library ready for auction. Some of West’s glass was sold at the same time, including two items which sound suspiciously like prototypes for Paterson’s ‘Cloister’: A large and capital Gothic window for a chapel, compleated in the most curious and elegant manner by Price (sold to Mason for £31–0–0) A window of most valuable paintings, in 16 pieces, compleated by Price (bought by Loton for £13–13–0)

Paterson almost certainly saw these and other pieces at West’s London home in Covent Garden while toiling over his books. The Cloister exhibition opened in late March, just as West’s library finally went under the hammer, and it seems likely that much preparatory work on the nine gothic windows had fallen to his daughter, Eglington Margaret, and her husband, James Pearson. Two of the leading glass-painters of their generation, the couple evidently met while working in the studio Paterson set up following his first auction sale of painted glass in 1761. His ‘manufacture of painted glass’ is first mentioned in 1764, and the Pearsons married four years later, when Margaret was 21.

Geoffrey Lane

My thanks to the Bodleian Library, Kees Berserik and Andrew Rudebeck for help and advice in preparing this article.

Further Reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: entries for Samuel Paterson and James Pearson
C. J. Berserik and J. M. A. Caen, Silver-Stained Roundels and Unipartite Panels before the French Revolution, Flanders, Vol. I: The Province of Antwerp, Turnhout, 2007
T. B. Husband, The Luminous Image: Painted Glass Roundels in the Lowlands, 1480–1560, New York, 1995
T. B. Husband, Stained Glass before 1700 in American Collections: Silver-Stained Roundels and Unipartite Panels, Corpus Vitrearum USA, Checklist Series, IV, Washington, 1991
W. Cole, A Catalogue of Netherlandish and North European Roundels in Britain, CVMA (GB), Summary Catalogue 1, Oxford, 1993
R. Marks, ‘The Reception and Display of Northern European Roundels in England’, Gesta, 37/2, 1998, p. 217
S. Baylis: ‘“Absolute Magic”: A Portrait of George III on glass by James Pearson’, Journal of Stained Glass, 22 (1998), pp. 16–30.

A Particular of the Cloister

First Gothic Window, bordered Azure.

Second Gothic Window, bordered Or.

Third Gothic Window, bordered Vert

Fourth Gothic Window, bordered Or.

Fifth Gothic Window, bordered Azure.

Sixth Gothic Window, bordered Azure.

Seventh Gothic Window, bordered Purpure.

Eighth Gothic Window, bordered Purpure.

Ninth Gothic Window, bordered Vert.


NB: words in square brackets are editorial, and replace long ‘ditto’ dashes in the original, as in Window IX above.