Valentin Bousch on the Bench
Following its sale last year (see Vidimus no. 7 (May 2007)), an outstanding window by the sixteenth-century French Renaissance glass-painter Valentin Bousch is currently undergoing conservation at the Holy Well Glass studio in Wells (Somerset).
The window was made between 1531 and 1533 for the former Benedictine priory church of Saint-Firmin at Flavigny-sur-Moselle (Lorraine), about three miles south of Nancy. It depicts the Creation of Eve and the Expulsion from Paradise and was originally part of a seven-window scheme in the choir. The glass was commissioned by the commendatory prior, Wary de Lucy (d. 1557), whose portrait appears in the window.
Apart from the fact that he was born in or near Strasbourg (north-eastern France), very little else is known about Bousch’s early life. He seems to have run a busy workshop after he settled in Saint-Nicholas-de-Port (Lorraine) in 1514. Six years later he moved his business to Metz, where he received a sizeable commission to paint glass for the newly reconstructed cathedral of Saint-Étienne. Apart from his work at Flavigny, Bousch also worked on other commissions around Metz until his death in 1541. Although no portraits of the artist are known, his signed monogram survives at Saint-Nicholas-de-Port in a window depicting the death, burial and Assumption of the Virgin. One of the soldiers following the Apostles carrying the Virgin’s coffin holds a red flag on which the initials V and B are neatly drawn (Fig. 2).
Along with three other windows that survive from the choir, the Creation/Expulsion glass was removed from the church after the nuns who occupied the priory departed to Italy in 1904. Three years later it was still in France, but at some point before the First World War it was shipped to the United States. Two of the windows were purchased by the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1917, and another is now in the church of Saint Joseph in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Creation/Expulsion window was acquired by the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, from whom it was bought by the Canadian collector in whose possession it remained until last year’s sale.
Holy Well Glass Director, Dan Humphries and Senior Conservator, Helen Chick, were keen to share their appreciation of the glass. ‘The first things which we noticed were the beautiful painterly qualities of the window and the gorgeous palette of colours [Figs 3–5]. Bousch was not afraid to work with relatively large pieces of glass to emphasis elements of the design and to avoid lead lines that might interrupt the scene. The virtuoso cutting of such large pieces is particularly impressive [Fig. 6]. Some lead-lines follow the line of the glazing bars pointing underlining the precision of the design and its ability to incorporate the glazing bars into the design. The cutting is also often very elaborate, almost daring. A good example is the way it follows the contour of architectural shapes [Fig. 7].’
‘Bousch’s handling of the glass itself is also revealing. Both crown and muff glass were used. Some sheets vary in thickness, and Bousch incorporates these undulating imperfections to telling effect. The bark of the Tree of Knowledge from which Adam and Eve steal an apple is not only painted to look gnarled and uneven, the glass itself has been chosen because it itself shares some of its features, producing an extra layer of texture and shadow to the final scene [Fig. 8]. The attention to detail is quite remarkable, as with the painting of Adam’s nipple and the donor portrait of Wary de Lucy. Everything about these paintings shows the hand of an artist working at an easel [Figs 9 and 10].’
‘Conserving the glass posed a range of challenges for the Holy Well team. It was thoroughly cleaned. Although the overall condition of the paint was excellent, the window had suffered various types of damage, possibly caused around the time it was shipped to the US about a hundred years ago, and almost certainly after its arrival, when it was installed in standard support frames that placed the undulating glass under acute stress where it was pinched in areas adjacent to the bars. Breaks were edge-bonded with mainly araldite 20:20. Colour matching needed to be very precise and multiple tests were carried out with different painting mediums, wetting agents and paints from several suppliers. Because of the problems caused by the support bars, some were re-engineered and gently curved to accommodate the natural forms of the glass. All of the beads holding the glass in place were re-drilled and tapped to ensure that the dry-mounted panels were not stressed.’
Even as we unpacked the glass, everyone was stunned by its quality,” senior conservator Helen Chick told our reporter when Vidimus visited the studio for an exclusive look at the window (Fig. 11). ‘And since we began cleaning and repairing the glass, our first impressions have grown rather than diminished. Working on the window almost five hundred years after it was made has been like having a one-to-one master class with Valentin Bousch himself.’
Vidimus is extremely grateful to Sam Fogg, Steve Clare, Helen Chick and Dan Humphries for their generous help with this item. Thanks are also extended to Karine Boulanger and Michel Hérold of the French CVMA. Figs 3–10 are reproduced with kind permission of the copyright holders, Holy Well Glass.
Abbé Guillaume, ‘Notice sur le prieuré de Flavigny-sur-moselle et sur quelques personages qui ľont illustré’, Mémoires de la Société ďarchéologie lorraine, 3rd series, 5 (1877), pp. 223–328
Edmond des Robert, ‘Trois vitraux du prieuré de Flavigny’, Bulletin de la Société ďarchéologie lorraine, (1907), pp. 212–14
Durr Friedly, ‘Stained Glass from the Abbey of Flavigny,’ The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, xii/5 (May 1917), pp. 112–16
L. Germain de Maidy, ‘Sur les anciens vitraux de Flavigny’, Bulletin mensuel de la Société archéologique de la Lorraine et du Musée historique lorrain: Revue historique de la Lorraine, 2nd series, 22 (1927), pp. 57–60, 73–78
J. Choux, ‘Valentin Bousch à Saint-Nicholas-de-Port et à Flavigny’, Pays lorrain, 54 (1973), pp. 157–70
Madeline H. Caviness et al., Stained Glass before 1700 in American Collections: New England and New York, Corpus Vitrearum Checklist I, Studies in the History of Art 15, Washington, 1985, pp. 154–55 (describes the Flavigny glass in The Metropolitan Museum)
Michel Hérold, Les Vitraux de Saint-Nicolas-de-Port, Corpus Vitrearum, France, VIII/I, Paris, 1993
Michel Hérold, ‘Valentin Bousch, l’un des “Peintres sur verre qui se distinguèrent au seizième siècle”’, Revue de l’art, 103 (1994), pp. 53–67
James Bugslag, ‘Valentin Bousch’s Artistic Practice in the Stained Glass of Flavigny-sur-Moselle’, Metropolitan Museum Journal, 33 (1998), pp. 169–82 (This article contains extensive bibliographical reference notes.)
Ariane Isler-de Jongh, ‘A Stained-Glass Window from Flavigny-sur-Moselle’, ibid., pp. 153–67