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Please note that the final instalment of our four-part history of the York Glaziers Trust will appear in our March issue. To see the previous instalments, visit the Features sections of issues 12, 13 and 14 in our Archive.
Five panels of Romanesque glass from Arnstein Abbey, now displayed in the LWL-Landesmuseum für Kunst and Kulturgeschichte (Regional Museum for Art and Cultural History), in Münster (Westphalia), form part of one of the earliest known narrative glazing schemes made in Germany and are especially remarkable for including a portrait of the artist, Gerlachus, who painted the windows around 1170–80.
To coincide with the formal acquisition of this glass by the Museum in 2005, CVMA (Freiburg) authors Dr Daniel Parello and Dr Uwe Gast have produced a splendid new account of the Arnstein glazing that includes major updates and revisions to previous scholarship. Vidimus is delighted to make these discoveries available to a wider English speaking audience.
The Abbey of St Mary and St Nicholas at Arnstein near Koblenz was founded by Count Ludwig of Arnstein and his wife Guda in 1139 and given to monks of the Premonstratentian order (founded by St Norbert in 1120 at Prémontré, near Laon, France). Construction work began under Abbot Gottfried (1139–51) and proceeded west to east, with the western parts completed around 1150/60 and the remainder of the building finished in the first few years of the thirteenth century. Two apses were incorporated into the design, as the monks worshipped separately from the wider congregation.
The Romanesque Glazing
The Romanesque glass comes from the western apse of the church, where five small windows lit the choir.
Until recently, it was widely believed that the panels belonged to a fifteen-panel glazing scheme that filled all five windows (three panels apiece) and which showed the Tree of Jesse in the centre flanked by two typological windows either side, with the outer pair each depicting scenes from the life of Moses and other Old Testament stories, and the inner pair each showing three scenes from the life of Christ. This reconstruction was devised in 1966 by CVMA author Rüdiger Becksmann and reproduced by the late Professor Louis Grodecki (1910–1982) in his outstanding study of Romanesque glass Le Vitrail Roman (1977). New research has now revised that interpretation. (Owners of Professor’s Grodecki’s book may wish to print out this article and insert it next to page 152.)
Recent dendrochronological surveys of the abbey have shown that window I on the south side of the apse was blocked up as early as 1172 following the addition of a porch to the church. As the glazing seems to date from between 1170 and 1180, it is possible that glass was only installed in windows I–IV, never all five. The alternative – that a complex and expensive scheme was installed and then almost immediately mutilated – seems extremely unlikely. New research by Daniel Parello suggests that the iconographical programme was, in fact, confined to the three central windows and was also substantially different to that conjectured by earlier scholars. In this scenario windows I and V (or only V if the glazing occurred after 1172) would have been filled with decorative glass. Rather than the Christological typological programme reproduced by Grodecki, it is now thought that the subjects paralleled the words of a prayer written in Middle High German and composed in the late twelfth century by an anonymous monk at the abbey. Dedicated to Guda, the wife of Count Ludwig, the prayer celebrated the wonders of Mary’s virginity, using a combination of scenes from Moses’ life and the translucency of the glass to foretell and symbolize the miracle of the virgin birth itself.
Although too long to reproduce in full, the following extracts from the prayer illustrate the relationship between the verses and the iconography of the glazing scheme.
Das Arnsteiner Marienlied
When You have born the child, you were free
and immaculate from the community with a man.
Who ever thinks this is impossible
shall only have a look on the glass, which is similar to you:
the sun beams are shining through the glass
it is intact as it was before
through the intact glass it (the light) falls into the house
the darkness it banishes from there …
You are the intact glass, where the light came from
to take away darkness from the world (…)
Also a book called Exodus tells us
that Moses a holy man had seen a burning rod
but the rod did not decay.
It was burning without damaging him (…)
the rod maintained its beauty,
as your holy body its chastity (…)
As a result of these different discoveries, the reconstruction of the original scheme has been substantially revised, with the iconography best described as a typological Marian programme and the scale of the scheme reduced to nine panels (rather than fifteen, as was earlier assumed), of which five survive. The reconstruction, from north to south and bottom to top is as follows.
Window I. Blocked up in 1172, but if glazed probably filled with decorative glazing.
Window II. Moses and the Burning Bush with Gerlachus below; Aaron’s rod blossoming; Moses receiving the Ten Commandments (Figs 3, 4, 5)
Window III. The Tree of Jesse; The Virgin Mary (missing); Christ.
Window IV. No panels have survived, but the following subjects are conjectured: The Annunciation; The Visitation; The Birth of Christ.
Window V. Decorative glazing.
Gerlachus and Artistic Style
Apart from the problems associated with trying to reconstruct the original scheme, the Arnstein panels also posed other difficulties for art historians. The painting style is strongly reminiscent of Saxon art of the twelfth century and manuscripts such as the world famous Gospels of Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony (c.1129 – 1195), made at Helmarshausen Abbey c.1173–75.
Yet at the same time, Arnstein was in the Rhineland, about 350 km (217 miles) from Henry’s capital in Brunswick, and despite repeated efforts, nothing could be found locally that suggested work of a similar style was also thriving in that region of Germany. How could this apparent discrepancy be explained? Again, new research resolved the problem.
The Arnstein glass includes one of most reproduced images of early stained glass: a portrait of an artist wearing a blue cloak over a white under garment, holding his brush and surrounded by the inscription ‘rex regu(m) clare gerlacho prop(i)ciare’ (‘King of Kings, have mercy on Gerlachus’); see Fig. 1. The inscription is a Classical Latin hexameter – not the stress-based metre of medieval Latin – a device used in epigraphic contexts; here the ponderous spondees emphasize the line’s solemn intent.
The clue to solving the mystery, however, lay not in the words but in the colour of the artist’s cloak. In 1990, historian Dr Bruno Krings discovered that the monks at Arnstein were not Rhenish but Saxon, in particular from the Premonstratentian abbey at Gottesgnaden, near Magdeburg, where they were permitted to wear blue cloaks. Such a breakthrough not only resolved previously unanswered questions about the artistic provenance of the glass, it also shone new light on Gerlachus himself, who can now be described as a monk from Gottesgnaden Abbey who received his artistic training in Saxony.
The Gerlachus portrait is fascinating on other levels. Traditionally painters of this period rarely signed public works of art. Patrons not artists were regarded as having ‘made’ works of art. Gerlachus is the earliest portrait of a stained-glass artist in Europe. It is possible that acknowledging authorship of prestigious works of art was a feature of abbey life. Some fragmentary annals formerly bound with a large two-volume Bible now in the British Library recorded that it was written at Arnstein in 1172 by Brother Lunandus (see website link below under Further Reading).
History of the Glass
The glass remained at the abbey until 1815, when it was bought by Karl Freiherr vom Stein (1757–1831, Fig. 7), a conservative German statesman who was born in the castle of Nassau near Arnstein. After retiring from politics, the baron enhanced his family castle with a neo-Gothic tower, which he glazed with early glass. In 1814–15, he acquired fifty-one panels of stained glass from different sources and of different dates for this purpose, consisting of 21 panels from Arnstein, 26 from the church of St Nicholas at Dausenau (near Nassau), 1 panel each from the churches at Oberlahnstein and Schweighausen, and 2 panels purchased in Cologne.
After vom Stein’s death, the glass was restored by Germany’s leading conservator, Dr Heinrich Oidtmann II (1861–1912, Fig. 8), who also published the first descriptions. (See Further Reading below.)
The baron’s collection was eventually inherited by Baroness Kielmannsegge. From 1927 to 1957, the panels were on loan to the Städel Museum in Frankfurt am Main, and from 1973 to the Münster Museum, until their formal acquisition in 2005. Despite their age, the panels are in extremely good condition. The glass has suffered little corrosion, and only minor replacements were inserted when the panels were conserved by Dr Oidtmann in 1897. Interestingly, the panel showing Moses receiving the Ten Commandments has evidence of restoration dating from the mid-13th century. A (white) infill in Moses’s coat is executed in a style called Zackenstil, in which the folds of robes are drawn boldly and dynamically. As two panels from the same church showing Saints Peter and Paul (see below) are also executed in this style, it is reasonable to assume that the restoration was probably carried out by the same master who made the Apostle panels around 1260/70.
Apart from the Romanesque panels, the museum also houses other important glass from Arnstein. The earliest examples are the two panels just mentioned and only recently attributed to the abbey by Uwe Gast. They depict the martyrdom of St Peter (crucified upside down) and St Paul with the sword of his decapitation in his neck, both made c.1260/70 for the little choir on the north side of the church (the Nebenchor), where they complemented an altar dedicated to the same saints.
Another group of panels from Arnstein in the museum date from 1360–65, when the east choir of the abbey church was rebuilt by Abbot Wilhelm von Staffel (d.1367) and new windows inserted. The east window contained a typological cycle over a row with donors, whereas the four side windows were filled with figures of saints and donors under canopies and ornamental patterns. A window of the same date showing the Throne of Solomon was probably in the south transept. All of these windows were painted by a workshop from the Middle Rhine or Upper Rhine region. According to the Old Testament 2 Kings, Chapter 2, when the prophet Elijah was carried to Heaven in a chariot of fire his son cried out, ‘My Father! The chariot of Israel and its charioteer!’ Typology paralleled this incident with the Ascension of Christ when Christ told the Apostles: ‘I am going up to my Father’ (Fig. 9).
A panel of 1510–20 with Christ as the Man of Sorrows (Fig. 10) showing his wounds, similar to a print designed by the artist Hans Baldung Grien (c.1485–1545), completes the Arnstein glass. The panel was a donation by the knight, Hilger of Langenau, and his third wife, Merge or Guda. As it fits exactly in the window of the little choir on the south side of the east choir, it is possible that it functioned as a retable.
More treasures in the museum from the vom Stein collection include two panels from the Dominican church of St Gertrude in Cologne (Fig. 11), where the panels were installed around 1290–1300 and 1330–40, and two panels showing St Nicholas and St Catherine from Dausenau, made c.1320.
Today the vom Stein glass is integrated into an impressive collection of medieval paintings and sculpture owned by the museum. Anyone planning to visit Münster to see the entire collection should do so before November, as the museum will be closed from November of this year until 2012 for major renovation.
Bruno Krings, Das Prämonstratenserstift Arnstein a. d. Lahn im Mittelalter (1139-1527), Wiesbaden: Selbstverlag der Historischen Kommission für Nassau, 1990
Heinrich Oidtmann II, ‘Romanische Glasgemälde Rheinischen Ursprungs’, Zeitschrift für christliche Kunst, x (1897), pp. 275–82
Heinrich Oidtmann II, Die rheinischen Glasmalereien vom 12. bis zum 16. Jahrhundert, Düsseldorf: Schwann, 1912
To see images from the Arnstein Bible, visit the British Library’s illuminated manuscript website, and enter ‘Arnstein’ in the search box.
Vidimus is extremely grateful to Dr Daniel Parello and Dr Uwe Gast for their generous help with this feature. Photographs are reproduced with kind permission of the copyright holders. Copies of the catalogue, which includes colour photographs of all the Arnstein panels (German text only) are available from the Landesmuseum für Kunst and Kulturgeschichte, Münster. See our Books section for further details.
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