Inspirational heritage – bows embellish Tudor stained glass

Tudor-painted-glass-Bury-St-EdmundsStained glass is more than just beautiful jewel-like windows flooding interiors with shimmering dappled patches of colour. Many stained glass windows particularly those found in churches are a combination of pieces of coloured glass cut and leaded together to form an image, and parts of the window lights where sections of the glass have been painted. In addition to painting people and animals often vegetal motifs and ornate architectural designs were painted into the backgrounds and borders of the main images.

I noticed an interesting bow motif used by the makers of ‘The Susannah and the Elders’ window in St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds. The artisans who painted this window lived during the first half of the sixteenth century and were either Flemish or French.

In one of the lights you can see the style of dress worn by the Elders and it is typical of the first half of the sixteenth century as compared with oil paintings such as the 1520 painting ‘Portrait of a Man’ by the Flemish artist Quintin Massys. These images immediately made me think of Thomas Cromwell in his legal guise flexing his power and working his charm round Henry VIII’s court. Although, I can’t imagine he wore any flamboyant bows himself!

Currently, I’m working the ‘Tudor bow’ motif with a blue palette.

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Creativity, inspiration and mining the past

Sometimes it’s colour combinations, sometimes it’s motifs and sometimes it’s just the overall essence of an image that provides a creative spur when searching for inspiration. We all do it and the Victorians’ passion for mining their past is proudly visible in their cultural output.

Most of the stained glass windows that decorate St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, are the work of three leading stained glass firms of the nineteenth century. Stained glass by Clayton and Bell, Hardman & Co and C E Kempe fill the cathedral windows with their work inspired by long-gone and unnamed medieval craftsmen. There is, however, one window whose lights are not Victorian, but date from the late medieval period. At first glance maybe they all look the same, but one has a different ‘feel’! (I’ve labelled it).

Contemporary meets medieval

Earlier this year a contemporary, stained glass triptych was installed in Norwich Cathedral. First thought – what makes stained glass different to oil paintings, watercolours, sculpture, bronzes and most textiles, well, it lets light THROUGH. It is not just about surface reflection, but translucence. The most stunning stained glass windows work with this quality. Now here comes the second thought do we commission artists to design windows in glass or do we commission stained glass artists to create windows?

McLean-Window-Norwich
In the past William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones both successfully designed windows as part of a broader view of art which was less sniffy about craft. The Arts and Crafts artist Christopher Whall worked in stained glass. He originally trained as a ‘traditional’ artist at the Royal Academy, but he learnt and practised glass cutting, painting, firing and glazing so he had control and understanding when he began creating stained glass windows. In a similar way to architecture and site-specific sculpture, stained glass should work within its context and architectural setting.

Simple shapes and clean lines give a balanced, unfussy contemporary feel.
Simple shapes and clean lines give a balanced, unfussy contemporary feel.
The new triptych in Norwich cathedral was designed by the abstract expressionist painter John McLean. The three large windows on the north nave according to the cathedral’s literature,

‘form a single work of art, conceived as a a vibrant journey from the solemn dignity of the Nave into the architectural excitement of the North transept’.

The artist working out his designs. Photograph from the Norwich Cathedral website.
The artist working out his designs.
Photograph from the Norwich Cathedral website.
The designs for the windows were developed over the course of seven years as the artist developed his knowledge of working with glass instead of paint. The finished windows are installed in three bays on the north aisle with northern light flooding through glass into the Romanesque cathedral. I have seen quite a few contemporary coloured windows in medieval churches most are not particularly successful. Here, I see that the shapes and colours of these three windows work well when viewed directly with the even northern light pouring through. As yet I’ve only seen them on a bright, sunny summer’s day.

View down the north aisle as summer light floods through.
View down the north aisle as summer light floods through.
However, remember these are windows shining light into an interior space. A tall, narrow, stone Romanesque space and the effect of the coloured light shining on the interior is striking, but for me too obvious. I will be interested to return in the middle of winter to see if the reduced light levels result in a more subtle illumination of the aisle. I am not adverse to colour, or the contemporary placed within a 12th-century building, but the orange and purple haze sequence combines to make the aisle look more like a fairy grotto.

Just a final thought – I would be fascinated to glimpse the process of commissioning such large scale works in the twenty-first century for such a significant Norman cathedral.

Just a glimpse - perhaps sometimes less is more.
Just a glimpse – perhaps sometimes less is more.

Visual Culture and Public Commemoration – Stained Glass

The First World War Village Memorial, Thorpe St Andrew, Norwich, Norfolk, UK Photo - 28 July 2014
The First World War Village Memorial,
Thorpe St Andrew, Norwich, Norfolk, UK
Photo – 28 July 2014
I know I’m not the first and I certainly won’t be the last to comment on the nature of public commemoration during this year, 2014, that marks 100 years since the beginning of the First World War. A public, ritualised remembrance for the dead has long been available to the powerful elite, but the terrible carnage of World War One brought widespread change to how the death’s of ordinary folk dying for their country was remembered. The sheer numbers of the fallen from virtually every town and village of the United Kingdom instilled a need in the general populace to act together within their communities and communally mark their losses. This was done through the village memorial, a stone cross bearing the names of the fallen.

Names of the fallen 1914 -  1916.
Names of the fallen
1914 – 1916.
Names of the fallen 1917 - 1918.
Names of the fallen
1917 – 1918.













WW I Memorial - North Gallery Window St Pancras Church, Euston Rd, London.
WW I Memorial – North Gallery Window
St Pancras Church, Euston Rd, London.
Although the stone cross memorial is the most frequent site of commemoration stained glass windows were also commissioned and installed in churches and public buildings. Similar lists of names of the fallen can be seen written on stained glass panels. Commemorative stained glass filling the windows of churches across Great Britain has been traditional for hundreds of years. Most were sponsored by prominent families or religious bodies and depicted Christian imagery. Often a discrete biblical quotation accompanied by the patrons name reminded the congregation to offer up prayers’ for the departed soul.

At the end of World War 1 with the large loss of life many institutions also chose to collectively mark the loss of their colleagues and friends. Not only were the dead from specific regiments commemorated, but companies, wealthy organisations and even schools commissioned large stained glass windows listing all their fallen.

Memorial window in original architecture at 30 St Mary Axe, London.
Memorial window in original architecture at 30 St Mary Axe, London.

The Baltic Exchange in the City of London commissioned a set of memorial windows for its semi-circular apse when it was based at 30 St Mary Axe. These windows by the stained glass artist John Dudley Forsyth were severely damaged by an IRA bomb which exploded on the 10 April 1992. Since then they have been restored and are now installed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. As this set of windows is now at standing height if you look carefully you can spot depictions of various WW1 war machines.
Part of Baltic Exchange memorial windows now at   the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.
Part of Baltic Exchange memorial windows now at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

In Southwark Cathedral, London, two three light windows by Hardman & Co were installed in memory of those who had died during the conflict. One window commemorates the 386 employees of the South Metropolitan Gas Company and the other window the staff from the Oxo company who also lost their lives.

Three light memorial window by Hardman & Co  in remembrance of the 386 employees of the South Metropolitan Gas Co who died in WW1.  Southwark Cathedral, London.
Three light memorial window by Hardman & Co in remembrance of the 386 employees of the South Metropolitan Gas Co who died in WW1.
Southwark Cathedral, London.

Detail of the window commemorating the Oxo workers who died in the 1914-18 war.
Detail of the window commemorating the Oxo workers who died in the 1914-18 war.

Of course regiments commissioned memorial windows and the King’s Own Regiment has a large, three-light window in the north nave aisle of Norwich Cathedral. It shows a central image of St George, but it has paintings of soldiers in the trenches in the panels either side. One is shown cleaning a rifle and the other shows a stretcher-bearer waiting for casualties.

'The Path of Duty is the Way to Glory', King's Own Regiment Memorial window. Norwich Cathedral.
‘The Path of Duty is the Way to Glory’, King’s Own Regiment Memorial window.
Norwich Cathedral.

It hasn’t been just fighters and machinery that have been depicted in these First World War memorial windows. In the small village of Swaffham Prior in Cambridgeshire, their local church, St Mary the Virgin, has a light that shows women working in an armaments factory.

Women working in the armaments factories. St Mary the Virgin, Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire, UK
Women working in the armaments factories.
St Mary the Virgin, Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire, UK

But despite all these long lists and large community windows every now and then a simple, small single light dedicated to two brothers can be found in a tiny village church – reminding us that each name on a long list had been an individual life extinguished by war.

The tiny parish church of St Lawrence, Brundall, Norfolk.
The tiny parish church of St Lawrence, Brundall, Norfolk.

Brundall-two-inscript

St George by Morris & Co dedicated to the memory of Percy and Leslie Dandridge. St Lawrence, Brundall
St George by Morris & Co dedicated to the memory of Percy and Leslie Dandridge.
St Lawrence, Brundall

Early Medieval Stained Glass – Colourful Inspiration

A couple of months ago I was asked to design and paint a ‘stained glass’ scarf.

Stained glass early medieval
Border decoration original from windows at Canterbury Cathedral, Kent – c.1200-20
Now displayed at the V&A Museum, London.

When undertaking a commission the easiest way for me to understand a client’s wish is to ask for a ‘mini’ mood board. This can be a small postcard-sized piece of card covered with torn pieces of magazine pictures, snippets of cloth, small cuts of wool and screwed up cotton thread that give me an idea of the colours required. In the past when one customer wanted a scarf to complement her new winter look she gave me a snippet of cloth from the inside seam of her new coat.

silk scarf stained glass design

However, more recently, the wealth of beautiful photographs on the Internet, has allowed mood boards to be generated very easily on platforms like Pinterest. The advantage of this approach is the ease with which ideas come together. Unfortunately, the downside is that accurate colour portrayal of ‘real-life’ on screen is notoriously unreliable and even the same image across different screens/devices can vary significantly. So, if an accurate tonal range is critical then an old fashioned, mini mood board is still best.

With the light shining through, early medieval stained glass panels photograph well (if not too high up in a window!) and the frequent use of bright reds and blues imparts a recognisable aesthetic. It is such a strong visual form that it was easy for the Victorians to mimic and then extensively develop in their Gothic Revival church windows, and, is probably what springs to mind when most people think of stained glass.

With my Art History hat on my personal preference is for the work of the late-Victorian Christopher Whall particularly his early 20th-century windows. This example panel depicting St Chad dates from 1901-10. It is now in the V&A Museum, London, and is from a collection of stained glass produced for a commission for a new window in the Lady Chapel at Gloucester Cathedral.