Roger Rosewell reports.
A large three-section panel of 16th-century stained glass depicting the Adoration of the Magi by the famous French painter Jean Chastellain and his workshop is among the highlights of a selling exhibition of medieval art which opens in New York on 22 January. Wonders of the Medieval World will also feature sculpture, paintings, metalwork and illuminated manuscripts, and take place at the galleries of Richard L. Feigen & Co., 34 East 69th Street, New York, NY 10021. The exhibition will run until Monday 17 March [Fig. 1].
The glass belongs to the London dealer Sam Fogg, and shows the Virgin Mary sitting in three-quarter profile at the lower right of the scene with the Christ Child wriggling from her hands as he stands atop her lap. To their left, Melchior presents a casket of gold coins to Christ, who plays with them [Fig. 2]. Standing behind this foreground group are (from left to right) Caspar, Balthazar and Joseph, with Balthazar being the tallest. Caspar leans slightly in towards the foreground scene from the left-hand edge, extending a gold chalice in his right hand. To his right, Balthazar stands face-on in a bright white turban with gold thread detailing, a large red toga, and a green and gold sleeved purplish tunic. A large and ornately worked chalice is in his left hand, and with his right he gestures towards it. On the far right, Joseph stands in a simple brown cloak with a blue hood, a stick in his left hand, and his hat in his right [Fig. 3].
Recent research by Dr Bodo Brinkmann has linked the design of the panels to Noël Bellemare (documented 1512–46), a distinguished painter, illuminator and designer of stained glass, who in 1532 is documented as the designer of the rose window in the south transept of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, Paris. The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge has a book of hours associated with him.
The panels echo a recently discovered painting by Bellemare in the collection of the Kunstmuseum, Basel, of the Adoration of the Magi before a ruinous building, with further scenes to left and right in the background, which features a grouping of the Virgin and Child with kneeling Melchior very similar to that seen in the Chastellain panels. The painting also shows Balthazar with his hand over a chalice in the same gesture adopted by Caspar in the glass, as well as the figure of Joseph wearing a two-tone coat, with his hat held at the level of his chest.
The stylistic characteristics of the scene, combined with its impressive technical features, offers a strong case for the attribution of the panels to the French master glazier Jean Chastellain (fl. c.1525–1541/2), the foremost Parisian glass-painter at work during the reign of King François I (1515–1547) and a known associate of Bellemare. Although Chastellain’s name does not appear until 1528 in the royal accounts, a great deal of glass produced before this date has been firmly attributed to him. A full summary of his œuvre is given in Michel Leproux’s La peinture à Paris sous le règne de François 1er (Presses universitaires de Paris-Sorbonne, 2001, pp. 172–73). The postures and gestures of the characters, together with their costumes with intricate ornaments, allow comparisons with several other extant windows by Chastellain in Paris, including the Judgment of Solomon at Saint-Gervais, and the Doubting Thomas at Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois.
Among the technical features mentioned is the technique employed for burnishing the eyes of Balthazar’s face. The figure’s head and neck are painted on a single piece of brown-tinted flashed glass, the flash removed to reveal the whites of the magus’s eyes [Fig. 4].
The distinguished stained-glass historian Dr Françoise Perrot has studied the glass and written the exhibition notes. The glass was almost certainly made for the church of the Grand Priory of the Temple in Paris, which was destroyed in 1796. For English readers unable to visit New York, a visit to Southwell Minster (Nottinghamshire) is strongly recommended, as four windows by Chastellain and from Grand Priory can be seen in the choir. According to the church guide, the windows were presented to the minster in 1818 by Henry Gally Knight (1786–1846), a former sheriff of Nottinghamshire (1814–15), who had found them in a pawn shop in Paris. They show scenes from the life of Christ: the Baptism of Christ, the Raising of Lazarus, the Entry into Jerusalem, and the Mockery of Jesus. The pioneering stained-glass author Charles Winston thought the first of these windows was weak but judged the other three ‘as effective and good, particularly the second, in which, by a skilful management of the background, a striking effect of distance and aerial perspective is produced. The third, as a composition of colour, is perhaps the best. These windows, though less powerful, are more brilliant than Flemish glass-paintings of the same period. As pictures, they go far to establish the claim of glass-painting to be considered one of the fine arts.’
Images of the Southwell panels are available in the CVMA (GB) Picture Archive, and parts of another window from the same series depicting the Ecce Homo scene can be seen in the Lord Mayor’s Chapel in Bristol.
Vidimus is grateful to Sam Fogg for his help with this article. The photographs are © Sam Fogg. We also acknowledge the work of Dr Françoise Perrot, who has prepared extensive notes on the glass, and the discoveries of Dr Bodo Brinkmann, who researched the relationship between the Chastellain panels and the Bellemare painting in the Kunstmuseum, Basel.