This figure of Christ enthroned, probably from a Coronation of the Virgin, is a rare example of glass-painting from around 1380. The original setting, including Christ’s throne, is lost. His right hand was replaced by Joan Howson in the 1940s; the heavy stippling is characteristic of her partner Caroline Townshend’s work. But enough remains to relate the glass to surviving work at Winchester Cathedral and New College, Oxford. The style is distinguished both by accomplished modelling and graphic painting. Drapery folds are evoked by the use of subtle stippling and smear-shading, while a combination of exceptionally fine and fluid lines sketch the facial features. Particularly characteristic are the downcast, heavy-lidded eyes with light irises (Fig. 1). Similar features can be found in fragments of figures from the west window at Winchester Cathedral, probably commissioned by William of Wykeham in around 1370 to complete the work of his predecessor, Bishop Edington, and to mark the beginning of his own episcopacy. At Winchester, for example, a head of an Apostle shares the net-like gathering of fine paint-strokes around the eyes and carefully modulated strands of hair (Fig. 2).
Comparable techniques were also used at New College, even though the glaziers, working for Wykeham in the 1380s, were becoming more adventurous and sophisticated in their painting. The figure of Eve, originally in the choir at New College Chapel, combines expertly applied tracelines of varying thickness with subtle modelling (Fig. 3). Likewise, an image of St John the Evangelist, one of four in the New College antechapel, exemplifies the confidence with which the glass-painters evoked the effects of falling drapery through the application of smear-shading and stippling, while continuing to work within in essentially graphic milieu (Fig. 4).
The survival of the Christ enthroned panel is due to its acquisition by an eighteenth-century lace merchant, Bryant Barrett, who installed it in his private chapel in the 1770s. Barrett bought the manor house in Milton, Berkshire, in the 1760s and set about enlarging it, adding two new wings, one of which housed his new library and chapel. Barrett was a Catholic and, having moved from London, became one of an extensive community of recusants in Berkshire. He was a close friend of the Catholic bishop Richard Challoner, who often celebrated mass at Milton and whose body he had interred in the parish church. The Anglican rector recorded the burial of ‘a Popish Preist and Titular Bishop of London and Salisbury, a very pious and good Man of great Learning and extensive Abilities’. Challoner’s remains were translated to Westminster Cathedral in 1946. As Catholicism was at this stage effectively prohibited, Barrett’s chapel was discreetly placed on the first floor behind a restrained classical facade, which rendered it undistinguishable from outside (Fig. 5). Inside, however, the chapel is a charming and unexpected essay in the kind of elegant Gothic idiom associated with antiquarians like Horace Walpole, James West and Richard Bateman at Strawberry Hill, Alscot and Shobdon in the 1750s and 1760s (Fig. 6).
As a Catholic, Barrett’s choice of Gothic is especially interesting. Mary Shepard has shown how Catholic apologists like John Milner had appropriated the Gothic style as a built manifestation of the true faith. This was most eloquently expressed at Sir William Jerningham’s chapel at Costessey, consecrated in 1805. Barrett, whose chapel was complete by 1774, appears to have been a precocious Catholic adopter of the Gothic style. But in some respects it was a fashionable – and conventional – choice for the country house of a man of substance. Barrett, who had a royal warrant to supply the crown with lace, was an aspirational member of the merchant class. His architect, very much part of the establishment, was Stephen Wright, Master Mason of the Office Works. Usually a practitioner of bread-and-butter Classicism, Wright was sufficiently flexible to furnish Barrett with a plausible Rococo-Gothic design that would not have looked out of place in any great man’s house. Milton Chapel is not, of course, an archaeologically credible rendition of Gothic, and does not meet to Walpole’s antiquarian aspirations. It is probably no surprise that Wright was apprenticed as a young man to William Kent, whose interpretation of Gothic was, in Howard Colvin’s words ‘happily free from Antiquarian preoccupations’. On the other hand, the arrangement of the stained glass shows greater artfulness and meaning than the Gothic effect sought and achieved by most eighteenth-century gentlemen.
Like Walpole, Barrett evoked the past by re-using old glass and commissioning armorials from contemporary stained-glass artists (in this case Thomas Jervais rather than William Peckitt). Unlike Walpole and most other eighteenth-century stained-glass connoisseurs, he acquired few roundels, concentrating instead on large narrative and figurative panels; he also included English glass in his glazing scheme. The foreign glass comprises a series of eight beautifully preserved panels from the life of St Julian the Hospitaller and a near life-size depiction of the Incredulity of St Thomas. The English glass, also the oldest, includes some extremely interesting late fourteenth-century narrative panels, perhaps from a Christological or Marian series.
Barrett may have obtained the foreign panels from his brother-in-law John Belson, a Catholic antiquarian who spent much of his adult life staying at various English religious houses in France and the Austrian Netherlands. He died in 1772 at the Carthusian house at Nieupoort in Flanders. His executor and fellow Catholic, Michael Blount of Mapledurham, forwarded to Barrett many of Belson’s effects including ‘painted, stained or coloured glass’. Or perhaps Barrett’s trade interests in the Low Countries gave him the opportunity to purchase Continental glass. He owned ‘a case of painted glass’ as early as 1765, when he moved from London to Milton. Whatever their source, Barrett’s acquisition of large-scale panels is notable at a time when the purchase and display of roundels was more common. The market for larger continental panels was not fully realized until the suppression of monastic houses in the early years of the nineteenth century.
Also unusual for this date is the orderly arrangement of the panels, which was aesthetically balanced and related to the liturgy. The lateral windows were filled with foreign glass, the St Julian panels symmetrically set on either side of the vast image of the Incredulity of St Thomas. The earlier English glass, which included the Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection and Ascension, was largely reserved for the liturgical east end, and placed in windows to either side of the altar. Also here were armorials, newly made, that commemorated members of Barrett’s family. The windows were visually linked by a Coronation of the Virgin straddling the two, the Virgin to the left and Christ to the right of the altar. The iconography provided a suitable setting for the altar and was appropriate too for the Marian dedication of the chapel. The arrangement was also visible from Barrett’s dressing room, a galleried chamber leading from his bedroom, with a privileged view of the altar (Fig. 7).
The glass was originally set in geometric borders of coloured glass (Fig. 8), unfortunately lost in the 1940s when Joan Howson replaced them with new glass and medieval fragments left over from the eighteenth-century installation. Howson was fresh from her major post-war restoration of the New College Chapel windows. Attributing the eighteenth-century settings to William Peckitt and the medieval glass to Thomas Glazier, she concluded that the glass came from New College. In fact, the settings are likely to have been the work of Thomas Gilkes, an Abingdon glazier, and Bryant Barrett probably bought the medieval panels for seven guineas from the rector of St Michael’s church in Steventon, a few miles away.
So how had glass of this quality found its way into the apparently modest church of St Michael’s, Steventon? Until the suppression of alien houses under Edward III, Steventon was a daughter house of the abbey of Bec, Normandy, its manor belonging to St Mary de Pré, Rouen, a cell of Bec. In 1378, the manor was leased from the prior by Sir Hugh Calveley, a Cheshire-born knight, who had profited through his success in Edward III’s military campaigns. Calveley had served under John of Gaunt and the Black Prince in France and Spain, and English ambassador to Aragon during the 1370s. His military service was rewarded with the governorship of Calais in 1375 and of the Channel Islands in 1376. In 1380, the king gave him custody for life of the alien priory at Steventon and its possessions. Calveley, who was resident in Berkshire towards the end of his life, is an obvious candidate for renewing the glazing at St Michael’s at around this date. His arms were noted in its windows in 1665 by Elias Ashmole, and fragments of them can be found in the glass now at Milton. One of a class of military men whose newly acquired wealth was partly diverted to pious benefaction, he founded a college at Bunbury, Cheshire in 1386. The perpendicular east window at Steventon, although much rebuilt, may be a remnant of his work at St Michael’s, once housing the figure of Christ now at Milton, along with the other late fourteenth-century glass now in the Milton Manor Chapel windows.
The similarities between the Christ Enthroned panel and glass at Winchester Cathedral and New College do not necessarily imply a single workshop, although this is possible, particularly if one takes the reasonable view that a workshop’s output evolved as glass-painters became more proficient and fashions changed. They certainly reveal something of the stylistic and technical repertoire of top-quality glass-painters during the second half of the fourteenth century. By the end of his military career, Calveley was closely involved with the upper echelons of society, including William of Wykeham, who had approved his chaplain on military campaign in France, and with whom he served on a commission in 1388. His wealth and his links with courtiers and bishops undoubtedly gave him access to accomplished craftsmen, which may explain the quality of this stunning panel.
Its significance is twofold. With the exception of the New College Chapel windows, very little high-quality glass survives from the mid- or late fourteenth century. Extensive and presumably influential schemes commissioned by the court, like those for Edward III at Windsor or John of Gaunt at Kenilworth, are long gone. The Milton panel provides a glimpse of the kind of workmanship available to well-connected patrons and may well illuminate the study of broadly contemporary schemes in Winchester and Oxford. Its survival in the eighteenth-century Gothic chapel of a Catholic merchant is no less important. Bryant Barrett’s purposeful arrangement of his collection of glass appears to be unprecedented. That his scheme remains, essentially unaltered, in its original Catholic setting, is extraordinary. Bryant Barrett and his chapel deserve to be better known.
The Panel of the Month image is © Holywell Glass. Much useful archival research has been undertaken by Martin Murphy and is as yet unpublished. The following articles will also be of interest.
A. Oswald, ‘The Manor House, Milton, Berkshire II’, Country Life, 24 December 1948, pp. 1330–33
A. Oswald, ‘Painted Glass at Milton’, (letter) Country Life, 31 December 1948, pp. 1393–34
H. Colvin, Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, 3rd edn, New Haven and London 1995, pp. 1099–100
K. Fowler, ‘Calveley, Sir Hugh (d.1394)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford 2004