- Five-year Conservation Campaign Completed at Wells
- Geoffrey Clarke
- Top Prize for Dutch Corpus Vitrearum Volume
- News from The Stained Glass Centre and St Martin cum Gregory
- Stained Glass on Paper at the V&A
- Stained-Glass Records at the Corning Museum
Five-year Conservation Campaign Completed at Wells
Work has been completed on the spectacular Jesse Window at Wells Cathedral, marking the end of a monumental conservation project. The window, which dates from around 1340, is remarkably intact, having survived the English Civil War and the Second World War, standing as one of the best examples of 14th-century stained glass in Europe. The window is formed of seven main lights that depict the story of the birth, death and Resurrection of Jesus, alongside his ancestors, leading back to Jesse, father of King David. At the apex of the central light is the figure of Christ crucified on a green tau cross, and the tracery has scenes from the Last Judgment. Medieval craftsmen used silver stain and yellow, red and green glass to striking effect, and the window is known locally as the ‘golden window’ because of the extensive use of yellow glass of a rich golden hue.
Steve Clare of Holywell Glass reports
Conservation of the Jesse Tree Window high above the main altar at Wells Cathedral, a medieval masterpiece, has been completed by the team at Holy Well Glass. This undertaking has been remarkable, in that it has been accomplished without recourse to central funding, or financial support from funding bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund. The restoration was a truly local effort, and its completion on time and on budget does great credit to the collective effort of the conservation team and the people of Wells, affirming their great respect and sense of responsibility towards the cathedral and this remarkable window.
The project has been a model of collaboration, and the support of many colleagues and specialists from other conservation disciplines has contributed to the successful outcome. Particular mention must be made of the advice offered by external adviser Ivo Rauch, who at the outset challenged the conservation team to adopt a policy of minimum necessary intervention. The professional rigour involved in adhering to a conservation policy based purely on conservation, eschewing the temptation towards restoration, did indeed prove to be challenging initially. However, the establishment of conservation principles for the project in a definitive Detailed Method Statement –following thorough debate and an exhaustive preliminary investigative stage that including test cleaning, and protective-glazing trials with environmental monitoring – enabled the smooth progress of the project.
The window has not been dismantled or re-leaded, and only a very small amount of local releading was considered necessary. The decision to retain the 19th- and 20th-century lead meant that new bronze perimeter frames for each stained-glass panel were required to ensure the long-term integrity of the conserved lead matrix. These frames incorporate beautifully crafted additional support bars, which follow the designs and are therefore invisible after reinstallation (Figs 1 and 2). The lead matrix was investigated as an integral element of the history of the artifact, by exposing mill marks in the heart of the lead (Fig. 3), which were recorded photographically and with scale drawings. These records were then cross-referenced with the known time-line of the window’s restoration history documented in the cathedral archive, and the results were mapped diagrammatically, allowing a definitive summary of the restoration cycles of the window to be formed (Fig. 4).
The glass itself was cleaned in a restrained manner. Cleaning trials enabled the best course of treatment for each glass type to be ascertained, and the glass was cleaned with de-ionized water on swabs, or dry cleaned with natural bristle and/or sable brushes as appropriate. Despite this conservative treatment, the colour key has been lifted beyond expectations, revealing the beautiful and unusual ‘golden’ palette of the glass. The window has small areas of intense blue of blue or ruby glass interspersed amongst passages of green and gold (both pot-metal yellow and silver stain), and the effect was likened by Dean Armitage Robinson to a flower meadow, which is a pleasing and accurate description (Figs 5, 6, 7). In particular, the cleaning of the window has increased the legibility of the unifying vine; the Tree itself, which now leads the eye through the design as originally intended.
In one singular case, the principle of pure conservation was less appropriate, and further treatment was required. This great window has as its focal point a crucifixion – unusual in Jesse tree windows, which conventionally support a Marian cult. Here, a majestic figure of the crucified Christ survives; surely amongst the greatest expressions of medieval art in Europe. At some point in the history of the window, the face of Christ had sustained damage and a small piece of plain sheet glass been inserted, subsequently daubed with household paint (almost certainly taking advantage of scaffolding erected for works to the high vault in the 1970s). This one area alone was identified as justifying restoration works, as the spiritual message of the artwork was deemed to take precedence in this case (Figs 8, 9, 10).
Arguably the major achievement of the conservation campaign has been the design and manufacture of the internally vented protective-glazing system, developed specifically for the site, which has set new benchmarks in terms of quality of craftsmanship and design. The aim was to produce a system that paid due respect to the architectural setting in terms of its materials and production. To this end, bronze sections were custom-milled to fit the stone profiles accurately. All joints were silver soldered. The external glazing was also designed to open, with hinged sections corresponding to original panel divisions, allowing easy cleaning, maintenance and removal as part of disaster management. All fixtures and fittings were machined from the same architectural bronze material (Figs 11, 12, 13, 14).
The conservation team invested in research and development in the manufacture of bronze sections, and consulted with metalwork specialists, but the works were all carried out in house to ensure tight quality control. Where the complex tracery sections were concerned, innovative production methods were embraced. Accurate templates of the stone profiles were taken, and vectored to produce digital files, which were used to allow the bronze material to be cut to shape by a sophisticated water-jet cutting machine. The resulting frames fit the stone reveals with unerring accuracy.
The decision to use diamond quarry glazing (Fig. 15) for the external screen was inspired by the late Peter Bird, architect for the cathedral at the beginning of the project, who advocated this approach with the aim of unifying the façade, which has quarry glazing at high level, and the adjacent Chapter House. His judgment in this respect, based on an intimate understanding of the building as part of the local landscape, is vindicated in the final appearance of the exterior of the eastern arm of the cathedral.
The conservation team at Holy Well Glass would like express their thanks to friends and colleagues for their generosity in assisting them towards a successful outcome.
We are sad to report the death of Geoffrey Clarke RA (1924–2014), an artist and sculptor, whose work included glass and metalwork for the new Coventry Cathedral. Clarke worked in a wide range of media throughout his long career, and despite being known primarily for his work in sculpture, his stained glass constitutes a remarkable achievement, being experimental and pioneering whilst at the same time maintaining a traditional knowledge base and hand-crafted approach.
Born in Darley Dale (Derbyshire) in 1924, Clarke attended Preston School of Art in 1940–41, and then in 1941–42 Manchester School of Art, where he met his wife, Bill. After serving in the RAF during the Second World War, he continued his studies at Lancaster and Morcambe School of Arts, where he won a silver college medal.
Although his original intention was to study graphic design and not stained glass, his natural ability became apparent during his time at the Royal College of Art, where he studied under Lawrence Lee between 1948 and 1952. Early work from the late 1940s demonstrates Clarke’s fondness for experimentation, where glass was combined with different media – such as plaster – in order to relieve what was deemed the ‘uninteresting surface’ of traditional leaded glass. This style could be seen as an early version of
windows, which, though popular in Continental Europe, did not become widely adopted in England until a number of years later. Following on from this stage, Clarke experimented with combining metal and glass, creating more sculptural pieces that likely contributed to his later work in cast metals.
Between 1951 and 1969, Clarke produced ten leaded windows for churches. Judith LeGrove has described them as demonstrating ‘the freedom with which he responded to the potential of the medium’. She characterizes their vitality as being due to their inventive design, which filled the whole window across the mullions and tracery; the use of leading to reinforce the designs; his interesting use of paint; and his choices of glass in a rich secondary colour palette.
In 1952, Clarke exhibited at the Venice Biennale and Gimpel Fils in London, and won a gold medal at the Royal College. In the same year Basil Spence enlisted the RA with the task of choosing glass artists to design the new windows for the bombed cathedral at Coventry. In 1956, Clarke – along with Keith New and Lawrence Lee – began work on the windows. They created three each, with Clarke’s including those titled ‘Wisdom of Man’, ‘Wisdom of God’ and ‘Man in Maturity’. He also made a number of sculptures, including the high altar cross, candlesticks, and the famous Flying Cross.
Clarke was elected to the Royal Academy in 1975, and had a successful career in England and abroad. His work can be found in a number of ecclesiastical buildings and museums, including Stained Glass Gallery at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and, as of 2015, the Stained Glass Museum in Ely.
Clarke is survived by two sons, Ben, and Jonathan (also a sculptor), and three grandchildren. An appreciation by Dr Judith LeGrove will follow in a future issue.
Top Prize for Dutch Corpus Vitrearum Volume
Zsuzsanna van Ruyven-Zeman’s Stained Glass in the Netherlands before 1795, the fourth volume of the Dutch Corpus Vitrearum, has been awarded the Karel van Mander prize by the Association of Dutch Art Historians [Fig. 1]. This most prestigious prize, awarded to a book dealing with the fine arts and decorative arts of the period 1550–1700, is awarded once every three years, and there were more than 1,500 contenders from the period the jury was considering.
The jury considered van Ruyven-Zeman’s work to be impressive and irreplaceable, providing as it does a complete overview of monumental stained glass in the country, and forming the basis for research in the field for decades to come. The clarity of the catalogue arrangement was noted, as was the usefulness of the maps detailing the locations of extant and lost glass. Also appreciated were the introductions to each province, which, in line with the Corpus Vitrearum format, provide an overview of the glazing, artists, commissioners, iconography, technique and restoration history, as well as lost glass. It was also noted that the opportunity had been taken to provide updated coverage of St John’s Church in Gouda, which had been the subject of the first three volumes of the Dutch Corpus Vitrearum. The work abounds in new discoveries, and in short constitutes an extremely rich and well-documented overview of the current state of our knowledge of stained glass in the Netherlands.
The prize is named for Karel van Mander (1548–1606), who was a painter, a poet, and the first Dutch art historian: his Het Schilder-boeck (‘The Book of Artists’) was published in Haarlem in 1604 [Fig. 2]. Although it draws material from Vasari’s Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori (‘Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects …’), with which van Mander would have been familiar from time he spent in Italy, the work includes important chapters on early Netherlandish painters.
News from The Stained Glass Centre and St Martin cum Gregory
On Saturday, 22 November The Stained Glass Centre launched its first exhibition, ‘Light in the North: Modern Glass-Painters of York’, showcasing work by the York artists Harry Stammers (1902–1969), Harry Harvey (1922–2011), Sep Waugh [Fig. 1], Ann Sotheran and Helen Whittaker. The exhibition takes place in the historic parish church of St Martin-cum-Gregory in York, until recently one of the city’s most important ‘lost’ buildings. As ‘The Stained Glass Centre’ the building is developing as a national resource for the discovery, enjoyment and interpretation of stained glass.
The exhibition has been curated and mounted by a volunteer team of history of art students from the University of York, and on display, in addition to the artwork, are the results of new historical research on the fabric of the church and the parishioners commemorated in it, undertaken by a graduate student archaeologist and interns funded by the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP) [Fig. 2].
The exhibition complements the outstanding stained glass in the church itself, underlining the unbroken continuity of glass-painting practice in the city of York. As well as the work by the artists mentioned above, visitors are afforded the rare opportunity to see a recently conserved piece by 18th-century artist William Peckitt.
A review of the opening of the first exhibition will feature in a future issue of Vidimus.
There will be further opportunities to visit the exhibition, which will be open from 10.00 – 13.00 on the following Saturdays: November 29, and December 6, 13 and 20.
Stained Glass on Paper at the V&A
A group of cataloguers, photographers, curators and volunteers at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, have published two interesting blog posts on cartoons for stained glass. The group, nicknamed ‘the Factory’, are in the process of working through the stored collections of the Prints, Designs, Photographs, Paintings and Digital Art sections of the Word and Image department at the V&A, and aim to ensure that images and existing data about the items held at the museum are available to the public.
The group focused this month on the museum’s collection of designs, cartoons and drawings of stained glass – ‘Stained Glass on Paper.’ The first post explores medieval and Renaissance designs, highlighting how cartoons were used as a guide to indicate the glass colours to be used, as well as the lead-lines and details to be painted. As we know from evidence of the Girona table (Vidimus 83 and pioneering research by Anna Santolaria, Vidimus 84), the earliest cartoons were drawn onto boards or tables, which could be wiped down and reused for different designs. The oldest designs in the collection of paper cartoons at the Victoria & Albert Museum date from the 15th and 16th centuries, and the blog discusses the light these drawings shed on the process of stained-glass production, noting how glass-painters were often tasked with translating an intricate drawing into a different medium, glass.
19th-century cartoons are also addressed in the second blog post, as the museum holds designs for stained glass by artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones. The posts are illustrated with photographs of designs and windows from the Victoria & Albert Museum collection, and include a video showing a cartoon in use. The ‘Factory’ promises a third article on drawings of existing stained glass, so be sure to check the website.
Stained-Glass Records at the Corning Museum
The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning NY, is also examining its collection of paper documents relating to stained glass. The museum holds a vast collection of documents from 19th-century glass companies in London, and is beginning a programme of unfurling and assessing a stack of around 7,000 drawings and paintings from the Whitefriars glass factory, which has been stored in the library at the museum for several years. Whitefriars glass factory was purchased in 1834 by James Powell and became known as the namesake firm James Powell & Sons, although the glass works itself had been in business for at least a century previously. The growth in church building in the 19th century and the resulting demand for stained glass enabled the firm to set up a stained-glass department in 1844, adding to their repertoire of decorative, table and scientific glass. The company was associated with artists such as Edward Burne-Jones, Henry Holiday, William Blake Richmond and William Morris, and worked extensively with Charles Winston to produce glass with the movement and texture close to medieval glass, appropriate for the Gothic revival. The company was an enduring, innovative and successful glasshouse, closing only recently, in 1980. Glass by James Powell & Sons can be seen in countless churches across the country [Fig. 1].
The Corning Museum of Glass will be working with West Lake Conservators to go through pages and sheets that depict scrollwork borders and biblical figures and which are brittle and fragile. The drawings are currently stored rolled in plastic enclosures, either individually or part of a group, and identified by church name and the location if this is known. Most of the drawings are full scale, and the medium varies, from pencil and charcoal to watercolour.
Plans are being developed for an online database which will digitally reunite drawings and correspondence with photographs of surviving windows. Interestingly, this could show whether the finished windows differed from the original cartoons or designs, and whether any notes or suggestions written in the margins were followed!