The Stained Glass of Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Dr C. Griffiths Mann of The Walters Art Museum (Baltimore, USA) has recently been apointed chief curator of The Cleveland Art Museum (Ohio, USA). A photograph of him standing against a thirteenth-century window in The Walters Art Museum prompted several readers to ask Vidimus if we knew anything about the history of these panels and the story they depict (Figs 1, 2). The short answer is that they were painted by a Parisian workshop for the newly built Lady Chapel of the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés (Île-de-France) sometime around 1244–47, and show scenes from the Passion of St Vincent of Saragossa, a widely admired medieval saint.
Thanks to the help and generosity of Corpus Vitrearum (USA) author Mary Shepard, Vidimus is delighted to publish an invaluable – and fascinating – gazetteer listing the current whereabouts of all the known medieval glass from this famous abbey.
THE ABBEY AND ST VINCENT
The Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés
The abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés (St Germain in the Fields) was built by the Merovingian ruler Childebert I in the sixth century at the behest of Germain, Bishop of Paris, to house an important religious relic – the stole of St Vincent of Saragossa – that the king had acquired during a military raid into Spain. The church was formally consecrated in 558, and after Germain’s remains were translated (moved) to a location behind the high altar in 754 the church and monastery began to be called Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Almost five hundred years later, a new detached ‘Grande Chapelle de la Vierge’ in the Gothic style was added to the monastery (Fig. 3). Around the same time, c.1244–47, the eastern hemicycle end of the chapel was glazed to resemble what one writer has called, ‘a great fire in the midst of the grey’ (H. Sauval, Histoire et recherche des antiquités de la ville de Paris, Paris, 1724, p. 341). Sadly, it was a fire that anti-clerical French revolutionaries soon extinguished: the chapel was razed to the ground in 1802.
Fortunately, not all the glass suffered the same fate. Before the chapel’s demolition, a well known Parisian antiquarian, Alexandre Lenoir (1769–1839), acquired a ‘suite’ of panels for his nascent museum, the Musée des monuments français. Thereafter, however, the picture becomes blurred. While some panels were displayed in his museum, others either remained in storage, or surreptitiously found their way to the British art market through the manoeuvrings of Lenoir’s glazier, Jean-François Tailleur. With the museum’s closure in 1816, some panels were returned to Saint-Germain-des-Prés or were transported to the former abbey church of Saint-Denis, while others seem to have disappeared entirely. Even those that were sold found a number of new owners. The Walters Art Museum panels, for example, were not acquired by the American collector until 1918 from the Parisian dealer, Jacques Seligmann.
The Passion of St Vincent
The account of the Passion of St Vincent of Saragossa appeared as early as 400 in the Peristephanon (‘Crowns of Martyrdom’), a collection of poems by the Spanish Christian writer Prudentius of Calahorra. Subsequent versions of the Passion were compiled by monks at Saint-Germain itself. It was also recounted in the Legenda Sanctorum or Golden Legend, an anthology of saints’ lives collected by the Bishop of Genoa, Jacobus de Voragine in the 1260s (see Further Reading below).
According to Voragine, Vincent was a courageous and eloquent deacon who was martyred by Dacian, the Roman governor of Valencia, around 304 (Fig. 4). Before he dies of his injuries, Vincent’s punishments included being stretched on the rack, torn apart with iron rakes, burned on a grill while his tormentors poured salt into his wounds (Fig. 5), and being thrown into a dungeon lined with nails and potsherds. Nor was that the end of the story. Enraged by Vincent’s defiance, Dacian ordered that the saint’s body be tossed into a field where it could be eaten by beasts (Fig. 6), but angels and a huge bird protected the corpse from wolves and raptors until an exasperated Dacian insisted that it be weighted down by a huge stone thrown into the sea where it could be eaten by fish (Fig. 7). Still Vincent continued to defy the tyrant: instead of sinking, his body floated away, until it was eventually found by a Christian woman and solemnly interred.
Devotion to St Vincent was widespread in medieval Spain, North Africa, Portugal, France, and parts of Italy, and windows depicting scenes from his Passion survive at the cathedrals of Angers, Auxerre, Beauvais, Bourges, Chartres and Rouen. For Christian writers such as St Ambrose, Vincent’s story was inspirational: ‘[He] is broken, quartered, cut into pieces, scourged, roasted: yet his spirit cannot be broken, because he fears God more than the world’.
St Vincent had a special resonance for the monks of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. He was their foundation saint, and the monks owned his stole and a part of his jawbone, given by the future king Louis VIII in 1215. When their new ‘Grande Chapelle de la Vierge’ was glazed, they celebrated the saint’s presence (through his relics) in two separate double lancet windows, the first telling the story of his Passion, the second telling the story of his relics. Such juxtapositions were extremely rare in medieval glazing schemes. The Walters Art Museum window consists entirely of panels from the Passion of St Vincent Window; further panels from the window can be seen in a composite window in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, Fig. 8, the panels depicting St Vincent with the Roman proconsul Dacian); the Victoria & Albert Museum (London); and the Church of Sts Mary and Nicholas, Wilton (Wiltshire, Fig. 9). Panels depicting Childebert I and his brother Chlotar on horseback from the adjacent History of the Relics of St Vincent Window also survive in the composite window in The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Other windows of the chapel’s glazing scheme included a Tree of Jesse Window, and a Life of the Virgin Window; there was also a second rare pairing of complementary windows, this time concerned with the abbey’s other titular saint, St Germain of Paris: the Life of St Germain Window, and the History of the Relics of St Germain Window. As with the St Vincent panels, some or all of the panels from these windows were also saved by Lenoir. To date seventy-two panels from Saint-Germain-des-Prés have been identified and catalogued by Mary B. Shepard.
Roger Rosewell and Mary B. Shepard
The authors extend their grateful thanks to the staff of The Walters Art Museum for their assistance with this article.
L. Grodecki, ‘Stained Glass Windows of St.-Germain-des-Prés’, The Connoisseur, cxl (1957), pp. 33–37
Jane Hayward (rev. and ed. Mary B. Shepard and Cynthia Clark), English and French Medieval Stained Glass in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Corpus Vitrearum (USA), I/1, 2 vols, New York, 2003, I, pp. 163–85
J. Lafond, ‘The Traffic in Old Stained Glass from Abroad during the 18th and 19th Centuries in England’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass-Painters, xiv (1964), p. 61
Mary B. Shepard, ‘French 13th Century stained glass from Saint-Germain-des-Prés at Winchester College’, The Journal of Stained Glass, xviii (1986–87), pp. 115–23
Mary B. Shepard, ‘The St. Germain Windows from the Thirteenth-century Lady Chapel at Saint-Germain-des-Prés’, in Elizabeth C. Parker (ed.) with the assistance of Mary B. Shepard, The Cloisters: Studies in Honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary, New York, 1992, pp. 282–301
Mary B. Shepard, ‘The Relics Window of St Vincent of Saragossa at Saint-Germain-des-Prés’, Gesta , xxxvii/2 (1998) New York, 1998, pp. 258–65 (Essays on Stained Glass in Memory of Jane Hayward (1918–1994))
Mary B. Shepard, ‘Medieval Stained Glass and Alexandre Lenoir’, in E. S. Lane, E. C. Pastan and E. Shortell (eds), The Four Modes of Seeing: Approaches to Medieval Art in Honor of Madeline Harrison Caviness, Aldershot, 2008, chap. 27
Present Location of Stained Glass Known to Survive from the Grande Chapelle de la Vierge at the Parisian Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Compiled by Mary B. Shepard
Seventy-two surviving panels or fragments from the abbey have been identified in Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States of America. Other panels may be awaiting discovery. This gazetteer is adapted from the more detailed catalogue in my D.Phil thesis: M. B. Shepard, ‘The Thirteenth-Century Stained Glass from the Parisian Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés’ (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1990), pp. 216–97 (available through ProQuest, no. AAT 9118644). I am especially grateful to Dr Linda M. Papanicolaou for her recent identification of the fragment now at Coe Hall.
Montreal (Quebec), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Two scenes from the Life of the Virgin Window (929.Dg.4): the Sacrifice of Joachim; a Hebrew priest refuses Joachim’s offering (from the Expulsion of Joachim from the Temple).
Champs-sur-Marne (Seine-et-Marne), Laboratoire des Monuments Historiques. Four angel thurifers from the St Germain windows.
Paris, Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés (Chapel of Sainte-Geneviève). Four scenes from the Life of the Virgin Window: the Annunciation to Anna; Anna and Joachim await the birth of their child; the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple; Joseph’s declaration of his unworthiness. Two Scenes from the Life of St Germain Window: St Germain’s mother attempts a miscarriage; St Germain and his cousin, Stratide.
Saint-Denis (Seine-Saint-Denis), Basilica of Saint-Denis. Three scenes in the Chapel of Saint-Firmin from the St Germain windows. From the Life of St Germain(?): a noble woman; St Droctove; from the History of the Relics of St Germain: the miraculous levitation of the reliquary of St Germain. Three Medallions in the chapel of Saint-Eugène, depicting the Wise and Foolish Virgins from the west rose window.
Nuremberg (Bavaria), Germanisches Nationalmuseum. Two scenes from the Infancy of Christ Window: the Presentation in the Temple (M.M.4), and the Flight into Egypt (M.M.5, 6).
Clevedon (Avon), Christ Church (east window). King of Judah from the Tree of Jesse Window.
Glasgow (Strathclyde), Burrell Collection. Priest and abbot/bishop saints (reg. no. 45.365) from the St Germain windows.
London, Victoria & Albert Museum. King of Judah (inv. no. C.2762-1855) and prophet (inv. no. C.125-1929) from the Tree of Jesse Window. Male figure (inv. no. C.2-1983) from the Infancy of Christ Window or the Glorification of the Virgin Window. Five scenes from the Life of the Virgin Window (inv. no. 1223-1864): Anna’s servant rebukes her; the Meeting at the Golden Gate; an angel attending the Virgin in the temple; the temple priests are shocked by the Virgin’s refusal to marry; the Marriage of the Virgin. From the Life of St Germain Window: Childebert receives St Germain (inv. no. 5461-1858). From the Passion of St Vincent Window: St Vincent burned on the grill (inv. no. 8-1881).
Staindrop (Durham), Raby Castle, Chapel. Seated and crowned Virgin (Coronation of the Virgin) from the Glorification of the Virgin Window. Standing monk from one of the St Germain windows.
Wilton (Wiltshire), Church of Sts Mary and Nicholas, hemicycle. Angel and a deacon, almost certainly St Vincent, from one of the St Vincent windows.
Winchester (Hampshire), Winchester College. Two scenes from the Life of St Germain Window: St Germain’s corpse displayed on a funeral bier (Fig. 10), two angel thurifers.
United States of America
Baltimore (Maryland), The Walters Art Museum. Seven scenes from the Passion of St Vincent Window (46.65, 69): Dacian orders St Vincent to be burned on the grill; St Vincent in prison; the Death of St Vincent; a raven protects St Vincent’s corpse from the wolves; the corpse of St Vincent is thrown into the sea; St Vincent is tortured with iron combs. A further scene, St Vincent on the rack, is modern, as is a copy in Andrésy, France.
Manhasset (New York), Christ Church Episcopal. Destruction of the pagan idols of Gaul, from the Life of St Germain Window.
New York City (New York), The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Two scenes from the St Germain windows (The Cloisters Collection, 1973.262.1, 2). From the History of the Relics of St Germain Window: St Germain appears to a monk in a dream. From the Life of St Germain: a servant carries two flasks (to St Germain and his cousin, Stratide). Six scenes from the Passion of St Vincent Window and the History of the Relics of St Vincent Window (24.167). From the Passion of St Vincent: Dacian orders the apprehension of Sts Vincent and Valerius; Sts Vincent and Valerius are taken to prison; St Vincent’s corpse is recovered from the sea. From the History of the Relics of St Vincent Window: Kings Childebert and Clothar on horseback; a citizen of Saragossa blows an oliphant announcing the display of St Vincent’s relic; the ramparts of Saragossa.
Oyster Bay (New York), Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park, Coe Hall House Museum. From the Infancy of Christ Window: fragment of a woman tearing her hair (from the Massacre of the Innocents).
Worcester (Massachusetts), Worcester Art Museum. From the Tree of Jesse Window: prophet (1971.1).