Carthusian Stained Glass in Norfolk

Fig. 1. Ketteringham Hall. © Mike Dixon

Fig. 1. Ketteringham Hall. © Mike Dixon

Recently I was able, as part of my work on the Norfolk Summary Catalogue for the CVMA (Great Britain), to see for the first time the collection of panels in a large staircase window in Ketteringham Hall, a nineteenth-century reconstructed Tudor mansion, just outside Norwich. [Fig. 1]

The glass was installed in 1844 by Sir John Boileau, who had bought the estate in 1836 and subsequently rebuilt the house. Apart from an interesting group of Netherlandish roundels, the window has as its central feature two large panels painted in grisaille technique, clearly of post-medieval date. The lower one is labelled ‘Christus Bonus Pastor’(Christ the Good Shepherd), and shows a shepherd with his crook and a sheep on his shoulder striding through a hilly landscape. [Fig. 2] The upper one depicts St John the Baptist in the wilderness with a kneeling hermit. [Fig. 3] These panels are unlike any other glass in the county, except for two panels in the parish church of St Peter at Kimberley, a small village not far from Ketteringham, where two panels have very similar putti to those at the base of the Good Shepherd panel. [Fig. 4]

But where had they come from?

London sales

Fortunately it was possible to identify the provenance of these panels with the help of four sale catalogues printed in the early nineteenth century for sales of glass collected by the Norwich-based dealers, John Christopher Hampp (1750–1825) and William Stevenson (c. 1750–1821). That published in 1804 for a sale held in Norwich and in London has as lot 242, ‘Lights. In Black and Brown, or Grisaille. The History of Eremetism (stories of hermits – Ed.), in 25 highly finished, and finely drawn and designed Lights, formerly belonging to the Carthusian Monastery, at Rouen’.

Fig. 2. Christus Bonus Pastor. © Mike Dixon

Fig. 2. Christus Bonus Pastor. © Mike Dixon

A further sale took place in London in 1808 in which twenty-two of the twenty-five panels advertised in 1804 appear again, this time listed separately, in two groups. The first group of twelve lights were put up for auction on day one of the sale at Christies, described as having the same subject and provenance as before, having been ‘the admiration of Travellers who visited that place’. The sales pitch was increased on this second appearance by their description as ‘a most desirable Acquisition to the Windows of a Gallery; where they would produce a still, sombre effect, and greatly assist the Brilliancy and Colouring of Pictures, or other Works of Art, being executed in Grisaille’. Lots 44 to 55 are then itemised, but with measurements only and no sale prices; so presumably they remained unsold. The second group on offer on day two are listed as ‘Grisaille Lights, 1620–28’ and the reader is referred back to the description given for day one. In the copy of the catalogue which has been published, lots 45–54 are listed with the prices realised, with measurements, and in several cases the subject of the panel. The prices ranged between £5 15s 6d and £46.

None of the subjects mentioned in the 1808 sale describe the Ketteringham panels (although some of the measurements given for the unsold panels are a good fit), but the catalogue of a subsequent sale by Christies in 1816 does. Lot 38 is described as ‘St John and St Bruno in the wilderness, 2 ft. 7 in. by 2ft. 4 in. without the Gothick top’. St Bruno was the founder of the Carthusian Order who became a hermit, and the figure in the upper panel at Ketteringham kneeling before St John the Baptist, the first of the Desert Fathers, must be he. The extant panel measures 0.945m high by 0.67m wide. It has been cut down slightly at the sides, thus agreeing with the 0.71m width given in the catalogue. It has a trefoil head, the ‘Gothick top’, which, if omitted, would give a height of 2 ft 1 in (0.635m), near enough to the recorded 2 ft 4 inches (0.71m). The next lot depicted was according to the catalogue ‘Charles V as the Good Shepherd’. The lower Ketteringham panel is labelled as Christ the Good Shepherd, but shows a figure not very like Christ, and next to him on the ground are several pieces of discarded armour and weapons and a crown. This must be an allegorical depiction of Emperor Charles V (1500–1558) after he had retired in 1557 to live in a monastery in Spain, laying aside his military role in order to live a monastic life. Both panels appear to have been bought for £5 10s each by a man called Crace, probably Frederick Crace (1779–1859), a well-known interior decorator, famous for his considerable collection of maps of London. He may have been buying for a client. How the glass came to Ketteringham Hall is not known. Two (and possibly three) of the roundels now at Ketteringham were for sale in the 1804 catalogue, so an intermediary is probable.

When William Stevenson died in 1821 the contents of his collections in his house in Surrey Street, Norwich, were sold over five days at Christies. Amongst several panels of glass was Lot 158, a panel from the ‘History of St Bruno’ from the Carthusian house in Rouen, measuring 4 ft. 4in. by 2 ft. 3 in. This long series of seventeenth-century grisaille glass painting depicting an unusual subject had clearly not been easy to sell and one wonders whether Stevenson and Hampp ever recuperated the high price which they paid for it.

In a footnote in his book on glass painting published in 1803, and in a letter of 1821 to Eustache-Hyacinthe Langlois published in the latter’s book on stained glass of 1832, Alexandre Lenoir (1769–1839), the founder of the Musée des Monuments Français, refers to the glass from the Rouen Carthusian house which Stevenson and Hampp bought. In 1803 he says that a Rouen glazier called Le Vieil purchased the grisaille painted glass which decorated the chapel of the Hôtel-Dieu (presumably an error for the Charterhouse, as the chapel had other glass, now partly in the church of St Romain). This consisted of forty panels illustrating the life of hermits. The glass was finely painted with admirable backgrounds, very fine detail and an intelligently observed rendering of light and shade. Lenoir tried to buy them for his museum, but the price was too high and they were acquired by a foreigner. In his later letter, he describes the glass as from the Rouen Charterhouse, consisting of subjects from the Life of St Bruno, and reveals the foreigner who bought them as an Englishman, presumably Stevenson, or somebody acting for him (Hampp was a German).

Carthusian monasteries in Rouen

The question of what was meant by the Carthusian house in Rouen is not a simple one. The Chartreuse de la Rose was founded there in the late fourteenth century, but having been ravaged by the Huguenots in 1562 and besieged in 1592 it decided in 1683 to join with the Chartreuse de St-Julien at the Petit-Quevilly, a district on the opposite bank of the river Seine, facing Rouen city centre. The Chartreuse de la Rose had a small cloister glazed with painted glass. The house at Petit-Quevilly had itself been formed from the fusion of the Chartreuse de Gaillon and the Benedictine monastery of St-Etienne (or la Trinité). The furnishings from the Chartreuse de la Rose were transferred to St-Julien, a new cloister was built and, eventually, a new church, not consecrated until 1767. The Charterhouse was sold in 1791–3 to a naval captain, who presumably sold the glass to Le Vieil. The style of the glass found at Ketteringham and Kimberley suggests that the date of 1620–28 in the 1808 catalogue may be the correct one for the glass, rather than the late sixteenth century previously suggested. Possibly a date after 1623 should be considered, as St Bruno was canonised in that year, which may have been the stimulus for the glazing.

Fig. 3. St John the Baptist in the wilderness with a kneeling hermit. © Mike Dixon

Fig. 3. St John the Baptist in the wilderness with a kneeling hermit. © Mike Dixon

The Carthusian Order, founded by St Bruno of Cologne in 1084, had a long tradition of devotional painting, but in the seventeenth century the mystical atmosphere of Counter-Reformation France and the canonisation of their founder gave it new impetus, which led to several series of paintings being made for the houses of the order generally based on the life of St Bruno, the most celebrated being the twenty-two paintings made by Eustache Le Sueur (1617–1655), for the lesser cloister of the Charterhouse of Paris in 1645–8 and now in the Louvre museum. The cloister was also glazed with garlands of flowers and small pictures of the Desert Fathers. As stated above, the small cloister of the Chartreuse de la Rose at Rouen had been glazed and after the move to Petit-Quevilly a new cloister was built and it seems likely that the series sold to England was from this building. If the glass does date from the 1620s, as the catalogue suggests, it would make it the earliest of such series of paintings in the seventeenth century. Later in the century, c. 1675, some oil paintings by Adrien Sacquespée (1629–1692), were executed for the Rouen Charterhouse. Of the three extant, two depict scenes from the life of St Bruno and the third shows Carthusians buried in the snow receiving communion from an angel.

Eremitism and Hermits

The theme of the Rouen Charterhouse glazing is given variously as the History of Eremitism or the Life of St Bruno. A study of the sale catalogues in which it appears shows that in fact it was a combination of the two. The saint is mentioned by name in only one lot, which depicted St John and St Bruno in the wilderness, almost certainly one of the Ketteringham panels, although the bottom strip which would have identified the scene is missing. However, two other scenes described as a hermit reading and the death of a hermit may also have depicted the founder of the order and that given as ‘Emblem of the Crucifixion’ could have been of St Bruno praying at the foot of the Crucifix, as in one of Le Sueur’s paintings. St John the Baptist was the first Desert Father and also appeared on his own with his symbol of the Lamb of God; another panel depicted St Arsenius, another Desert Father, suggesting that as in the cloister glazing in Paris there was also a series of Desert Fathers, suitable for an order which promoted the eremitical life. Three panels dealt with what at first sight may seem an entirely different subject, the life of the Emperor Charles V. However, the Emperor, who died in 1558, relatively recently for the glass, was renowned for the fact that in 1557 he retired to the Hieronymite monastery at Yuste in Spain. The Hieronymite Order was an eremitical order, and thus Charles’ retreat was, from the evidence of the glass, seen as an example of the adoption by a worldly leader of the eremitical life. In fact, the emperor lived in a comfortable villa which he had specially built for him. One panel is recorded in the 1816 catalogue as ‘The Conversion of Charles V’. Charles was of course brought up as a Catholic and needed no conversion; the panel either depicted somebody else, or perhaps his decision to adopt the monastic way of life. Another panel was ‘Charles Vth devoting himself to a Monastic life’ and a third showed Charles V as the Good Shepherd, the second panel at Ketteringham. A fourth one was of ‘Taking off the armour’. This may have been of Charles V as well, showing him leaving behind his military role to move to a monastic life, or it could refer to the legend of King Roderick of Spain in the eighth century, which relates that the king, defeated by the Moors at the battle of Guadelete, took off his armour, and escaped with a monk to a lonely promontory in Portugal to live as a hermit in a cave. Associations between royalty and hermits were a topos and the series at Rouen may have included various examples.

The two panels at Kimberley are from the base of two of the panels of the series and can be compared to the lower panel at Ketteringham Hall, which has putti holding a shepherd’s crook, referring to the scene above of Charles V as the Good Shepherd. One of the Kimberley panels has putti leaning on skulls, blowing bubbles and with a lighted candle, all ‘Vanitas’ symbols alluding to the brevity of life and the inevitability of death. This suggests that the missing panel above was something connected with this theme, although measurements preclude the panel which showed the death of a hermit. The other panel has putti without any indication of subject.


Fig. 4. Panel border. © Mike Dixon.

Fig. 4. Panel border. © Mike Dixon.

The discovery of this glass from the Carthusian House at Rouen provides new insights into the stained glass of a period about which less is known than the medieval period. The use of grisaille painting without coloured glass was common at this time. It had already been seen in the sixteenth century, as in the glazing 1562–70 of the Chapelle des Trépassés of the cemetery of St Maur, where those who died in the Hôtel-Dieu at Rouen were buried. In the next century the supply of coloured glass from Lorraine became irregular and expensive, but an additional factor was that the Counter-Reformation church also felt the need for windows which allowed in enough light to illuminate the many pictures and sculptures made at this time. The glass found at Ketteringham and Kimberley uses two colours of glass paint, one reddish and another grey to black (the 1804 catalogue describes the panels as being in black or brown), sometimes within the same light. Further research is needed to try to establish exactly where the glass came from and, if possible, where the glass was made and by whom, which in turn may help to confirm whether the date of 1620–28 given in the catalogue is correct.

The sophistication of both design and painting suggests that a Parisian provenance should be considered. A contract of 1618 survives in which a Rouen glazier sub-contracted the painting of two windows to Louis Pinaigrier which were to be transported on completion to Rouen by boat, demonstrating that Paris was considered as a desirable alternative source for artists for Rouen patrons in the early seventeenth century. One painter living in Paris from 1623 after a long stay in Rome and a visit to Spain was Claude Vignon (1593–1670), whose figure and drapery style and interest in chiaroscuro techniques have strong echoes in the Ketteringham panels. He painted the cartoons for forty-five of the sixty-four windows of the charnel house of the church of St Paul in Paris which were executed by the glazier Le Vasseur c.1634–5. Louis Pinaigrier, who died in 1627, painted some of the other windows.

It is to be hoped that bringing these panels to public attention may also lead to more glass from this fascinating series being found.

David King


David King is the author of The Medieval Stained Glass of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, CVMA (GB), V, Oxford, 2006.

Further reading

– A.Lenoir, Musée des monumens français; histoire de la peinture sur verre, et description des vitraux anciens et modernes, pour server à l’histoire de l’art, relativement à la France, Paris, 1803

– E-H Langlois, Essai historique et descriptif sur la peinture sur verre, ancienne et modern, Rouen, 1832

– Anon. ‘Catalogue of a Sale by Auction of Ancient Stained Glass at Christies in 1816, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, vi, no. 4, 1937, pp. 217–220

– J.. A. Knowles, ‘Catalogue of a Sale of Stained Glass in 1804’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, xii, no. 1 (1955), pp. 22–29

– Anon. ‘An Early Nineteenth-Century Sale Catalogue’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, x, no. 4 (1951), pp. 181–88

– J. Lafond, ‘De 1560 à 1789’, in Marcel Aubert et al., Le vitrail français, Paris, 1958, pp. 257–272

– J. Evans, Monastic Iconography in France from the Renaissance to the Revolution, Cambridge, 1970

– P. Bassani, Claude Vignon (1593-1670), Paris, 1992, pp. 278, 549

– F. Gatouillat, ‘Voyage des hommes, voyages des oeuvres: le vitrail, un produit d’exportation’, Revue de l’art , 1998, no. 120, pp. 35-48

Vidimus articles

For more articles about the activities of John Christopher Hampp and William Stevenson:

– ‘Exhibition of Mariawald Abbey Glass at Hungate Medieval Art Centre’ (Vidimus 45) ’

– The Steinfeld Abbey Cloister Glazing’ (Vidimus 35) ’

– St Anne and the Holy Family: From Cologne to Norfolk’ (Vidimus 26)

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