As mentioned in Vidimus 68, an exhibition opens this month at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, featuring six important examples of English stained glass, 12th-century panels from Canterbury Cathedral.
The exhibition, entitled Canterbury and St. Albans: Treasures from Church and Cloister, will display the panels alongside the St Albans Psalter, one of the most famous English Romanesque manuscripts of this period.
The exhibition of the glass and the psalter is possible because of preservation activities. The six windows from Canterbury Cathedral have been removed temporarily from the cathedral’s Great South Window for conservation of the architectural framing, and the St Albans Psalter, on loan from the Cathedral Library in Hildesheim, Germany, has been temporarily unbound for documentation and conservation and will soon be permanently rebound.
The panels from Canterbury are part of the Ancestors of Christ series, which was originally housed in the clerestory windows at the eastern end of the cathedral. They were made soon after a severe fire in 1174, and after the redesign and expansion of the cathedral to include a shrine for the recently canonized Becket. The Ancestors of Christ windows originally consisted of eighty-six figures, largely based on the list of names contained in the Gospel of St Luke, with additional names taken from the Gospel of St Matthew. Forty-three figures from the series – the largest known series of the genealogy of Christ in medieval art – now survive. The windows exhibited at the Getty show the imposing, life-size figures of Jared, Lamech, Noah, Thara, Abraham and Phalec [Figs 5 and 6].
The figures of Jared and Lamech are among the earliest of the figures created and are attributed to an artist known as the Methuselah Master, named after the window depicting that Old Testament patriarch. The Methuselah Master’s skilfully designed and painted figures have a striking sculptural gravity and distinctive psychological animation. The artist is thought to have left Canterbury by 1180. He may have designed the figure of Noah, but the actual painting is by a different, unknown hand.
Most of the ancestor figures were later transferred to other parts of the cathedral while their wide decorative borders were left in the clerestory, and the majority of the figures were moved to the Great South Window in the eighteenth century. The six panels on show at the Getty will be exhibited along with sections of their original borders that have been removed from the clerestory for the exhibition. Four of the figures have been united with their borders for the first time in over 200 years.