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The newly published 2008 issue of the Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters is packed with fascinating articles. For readers of Vidimus, highlights include two important articles on 16th-century continental glass, now in the UK and the USA. The first is a translated copy of Brigitte Wolff-Wintrich’s meticulous recreation of the original glazing of the church of Mariawald Abbey (near Eifel, Germany) and her discovery of the current whereabouts of the surviving glass [Fig. 1. St John the Baptist with the Angel of Judgement, either from the west window or, more likely, from a choir or nave window in Mariawald Abbey church; now in St Stephen’s church, Norwich, Norfolk.© Mike Dixon] ; the other, a masterly discussion by Yvette Bandem Bemden on the magnificent windows from the former Cistercian Abbey of Herkenrode in modern Belgium, now in the Lady Chapel of Lichfield Cathedral (Staffordshire).
For more information and to buy a copy of the Journal visit the BSMGP website.
Ervin Bossanyi Vision, Art and Exile. Edited by Jo Bossanyi and Sarah Brown. ISBN 978 1 904965 15 2. Published by Spire Books, 295 pages; 261 colour & 92 b/w illustrations. Hardback. RRP £65 but obtainable at a special introductory price of £45 plus postage and packing to Vidimus readers from the Stained Glass Museum at Ely. To buy copies phone 01353 660347, mentioning Vidimus, or e-mail.
Ervin Bossanyi was one of the major stained glass artists of the 20th century. This book tells his remarkable story and introduces the masterpieces he created to a wider audience. Edited by CVMA Chair Sarah Brown and the artist’s son, Jo Bossanyi, authors and publishers alike deserve the highest praise for a splendid publication.
Born in Hungary in 1891 to a Jewish family, Ervin Bossanyi trained at the National Hungarian Royal School of Applied Arts in Budapest before winning a travel scholarship which took him to London, Paris and Rome. At the outbreak of the First World War, he and a fellow-artist, Imre Szobotka, were living and painting in Brittany. As ‘enemy aliens’ they were interned for the duration of the conflict. Ervin’s brother, Karoly, was similarly interned on the Isle of Man, and sadly died from influenza after his release. After a short stay back in Hungary, Bossanyi found the so-called ‘white terror’ of the Horthy regime made life unbearable, so he escaped to Austria by stowing away on a Danube steamer. He settled first in Lübeck, then in Hamburg. While in Germany he made a name for himself as an artist and a ceramicist and met and married his wife, Wilma, with whom their only child, Jo, was born. During this period he branched out into stained glass, his first major commission being in 1926, a piece which forms the striking dust-jacket to this book. Another project of the same year was for the Indian Rajah of Aundh, but this unfortunately fell through at the time of Indian independence.
Fleeing persecution once again, the Bossanyis moved to England in 1934 and settled eventually in Eastcote, Middlesex. Life at first was hard but by the 1950s big commissions were arriving. Too many, in fact! Tied down by works for Canterbury Cathedral and the National Cathedral in Washington, he had to turn down the request to design four windows for Cape Town Cathedral. After the completion of the work for Canterbury and Washington, Bossanyi more or less retired, living in Eastcote until his death in 1975, at the age of 84. Wilma, his wife, died in 1982. Their ashes are interred in the Memorial Garden of Canterbury Cathedral.
Bossanyi was very much his own worker; only in the final two large commissions did he involve other people in his work. These included Paul San Casciani and Alfred Fisher and both of them make significant contributions to this book. Bossanyi’s figures are very easily identifiable, with their typical large, oriental eyes and sinuous bodies. He understood the emotional power of colour. The influence of Indian art, from the time of his Aundh commission, is clear. Some people consider his work to be sentimental, but maybe ‘sensitive’ would be a better description. The book has nine chapters, each written by a different expert on various facets of Bossanyi’s life and career. Each of these chapters is interesting in itself and the entirety gives an excellent overall view of him as a man and as an artist. His son, Jo, provides an introductory biography, which shows both a sympathetic understanding of his father’s life and an insight into his works. Among the other chapters are valuable contributions from Sarah Brown, Peter Cormack, Paul San Casciani and Alfred Fisher. The book is well-illustrated, although one has occasionally to jump about a bit to match up the illustration with the relevant writing or to refer to the invaluable checklist at the back. The indexing, however, is useful here. There are many interesting archive photographs of his family life and various homes. The colour illustrations are generally good, although one or two are disappointing; in particular the reproductions of the Canterbury windows, considered by many to be his finest works, fail to convey their colourful luminosity. However, these are minor faults in what is otherwise an exceptionally fine book.
‘A Biographical Outline’. Jo Bossanyi.
‘The Early Years in Context, 1905-1913′. Peter Cormack and Katalin Gellér
‘For and Against Modernism, 1910-1919′. Geoffrey Fouquet.
‘The Lübeck Years, 1919-1929′. Jenns Howoldt.
‘Bossanyi and Schumacher, 1929-1934′. Maike Bruhns.
‘A Flourishing Career: Germany, 1919-1934′. Rüdiger Joppien.
‘The Strangest Stranger’: Bossanyi and Stained Glass, 1934-1974′. Sarah Brown.
‘Memories of a Stained-Glass Artist’. Paul San Casciani.
‘Working with Bossanyi’. Alfred Fisher.
Postscript (Sarah Brown); Chronology; Checklist of Principal Works (Jo Bossanyi, Sarah Brown and Joseph Spooner); Bibliography; Endnotes; Contributor Biographies; and an Index.
[Fig. 1. Book Cover, Music Leaving Her Fingers, 1926; Fig. 2. Detail from Salvation, 1958, one of four windows made by Bossanyi for Canterbury Cathedral. It shows a man being guided upwards by an angel to the bosom of the Universal Family. © chrisjohnbeckett; Fig. 3. Evening, 1932 by Evan Bossanyi © The Stained Glass Museum This window was among the last that Ervin Bossanyi made in Germany before fleeing to England. It was given to the Stained Glass Museum, Ely in 1976 by Jo Bossanyi].
For most English readers of Vidimus, mention of Altenburg Abbey immediately brings to mind the remarkable collection of early 16th century panels depicting the life of St Bernard that were once in the Abbey cloisters. The panels are now held by St Mary’s church, Shrewsbury. However, as the latest volume in the superb Meisterwerke der Glasmalerei series produced by the German CVMA (Freiburg) brilliantly demonstrates, there is a vast – and wonderful – assemblage of medieval glass still to be seen in the Abbey church itself.
Der Altenberger Dom describes the creation of the Abbey in 1133 by Count Adolf II and Everhard von Berg, then traces the building history of the church after the foundation stone was laid in 1255–59 by the Archbishop of Cologne, Konrad von Hochstaden. [Fig. 2. Altenberg Abbey © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg ] Thereafter the book is wholly devoted to the Abbey’s remarkable quantity of surviving medieval glass. The choir was glazed in ornamental grisaille between 1264 and 1276. It seems likely that this scheme also extended to the eastern end of the church behind the high altar, as no records suggesting otherwise have been found. [Fig. 3. The interior of the Abbey © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg ; Fig. 4. Detail of grisaille pattern © CVMA (Freiberg)]
Around 1290–1300 the main window in the north transept was glazed in a more decorative style of grisaille, with coloured inserts and charming animal figures among the foliage. [Fig. 5. The north window © CVMA (Freiberg)] The decoration of some of the windows in the eastern parts of the nave is also stylistically very similar to this window.
The most famous window in the main church was made between 1386 and 1397 and has two rows of figures below exceptionally flamboyant canopies. [Fig. 6. The west window © CVMA (Freiberg)] Most of the figures depict individual saints. Traditionally, it was thought that the figures merely represented saints with a particular appeal to Cistercians, hence the inclusion of St Bernard and St Benedict, but the authors are to be commended for discovering that the iconography of the window (which was difficult to decode due to numerous restorations) put an accent on the Virgin Mary as the main patron of the building with scenes of the Annunciation and the Adoration of the Magi including the donors, Duke Wilhelm von Berg and his wife Anna von Pfalz-Bayern, at the centre of the scheme [Fig. 7. Detail of the Nativity, and Fig. 8. The Annunciate Virgin with Duke Wilhelm von Berg © CVMA (Freiberg)] As a result the iconography may now be linked to a small carved scheme above the west door which showed the Annunciation and included Latin verses referring to the infant Christ being adored by the Three Kings. Again, important similarities between designs in the abbey and those in nearby Cologne cathedral – about 30 miles away – add new dimensions to the history of the glazing and the work of the glass painters who made the Westfenster.
The chapter on the cloister glazing is inevitably tinged with regret. When complete, two subjects were depicted: scenes from the Life of St Benedict and a typographical scheme using scenes from the Old Testament (types) as precursors for events in the Life of Christ (ante-types), possibly based on a blockbook edition of the Bibilia pauperum published in the 1460s. However, as explained in previous issues of Vidimus, see Issues 6 (April 2007) and 8 (June, 2007) the glass from the cloisters was dismantled and sold in the early 19th century, following Napoleon’s occupation of the Rhineland and secularisation of the monasteries. Many of the c. 1520 St Bernard panels were subsequently acquired by an English collector and may now be seen in Shrewsbury. In addition, examples may also be found in German Museums, such as the Schnütgen Museum in Cologne. [Fig. 9. St Bernard panel, depicting the death of the saint at Clairvaux] In 1950 several others were returned to the Abbey. A few of the typographical panels may also be found in German museums.
The final chapter discusses some c.1900 glass in the medieval style which decorates one of the abbey’s oldest buildings, the Markuskapelle.
By focusing on the glazing of individual churches and publishing attractive volumes at affordable prices, the German CVMA (Frieburg) are not just reaching new audiences, they are also providing an exemplary role model for others – buy it!
Uwe Gast, Daniel Parello and Hartmut Scholz, Der Altenberger Dom. Meisterwerke der Glasmalerei 2, German text only, published by Schnell and Steiner, 2008, 96 pages plus diagrams, 77 colour, 20 b/w photographs, h. 28mm, w. 16.2 mm. Price, 12.90 Euros.
Other Titles in the same series: Sankt Peter zu Köln; St.Sebald in Nürnberg.
Titles in preparation: Die Elisabethkirche in Marburg; Die Katharinenkirche in Oppenheim.
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