English and French Medieval Stained Glass in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
In association with this month’s feature on the redisplay of stained glass at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Vidimus reviews the first in-depth catalogue of the collection.
Jane Hayward, revised and edited by Mary B. Shepard and Cynthia Clark, English and French Medieval Stained Glass in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Corpus Vitrearum, United States of America, Vol. I, Part 1, 2 vols. Harvey Miller publishers, 2003, Hardcover, 488 pp, 32 colour and 509 b/w ills Price £175.00, $364.
Great collections deserve great catalogues. In the late Jane Hayward (1918–1994), the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York found both the scholarly curator and the inspirational teacher to provide the splendid volumes it needed.
To date only the first section of Jane’s two-part catalogue has been published. It describes the Museum’s holdings of French and English stained glass. The second part, focusing on glass from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands will appear at a later date, under the authorship of Hayward’s colleague, Timothy B. Husband.
It is impossible to understand the character and scope of the glass described in these first volumes, without remembering that not a single panel is indigenous to the United States. Every piece had to be bought on the art market, with all the imbalances and imperfections that poses. One result is that the Museum owns more early French glass than English; another is it that includes examples from some of the greatest French monuments, restored in the nineteenth century by glaziers who were not always averse to ‘private trading’ with dealers and collectors.
The catalogue begins with a fascinating essay by its joint editor, and Vidimus contributor, Mary Shepard, which charts the history of the museum’s collection from its first window of late nineteenth-century stained glass donated in 1906, to its current status as custodians of the largest and most important collection outside Europe.
Apart from the generosity of wealthy benefactors like George Pratt and John D Rockefeller, who funded or donated these acquisitions, the Museum also benefited from the expertise of a remarkable group of post-1960s scholars whose researches yielded vital information about the provenance and original location of the glass that had been given or bought.
Hayward was a leading member of this group. Her 54 entries covering 123 pieces of glass (some are grouped together) sparkle with observation, years of study, an international network of contacts and a profound respect for the artists who made the windows. The catalogue was written over a twelve year period before her death in 1994. Each entry includes a wealth of information covering: related material, the history of the glass, its original location, a full description, the iconography it depicts, its style and date, its condition (including restorations), and details of the technique that were used, rounded off by an annotated bibliography and detailed references.
The result is more than a catalogue: the entries also summarise the glazing history of some of the most important schemes in France; the Abbey church of Saint-Denis north of central Paris, Saint-Yved in Braine, Saint-Remi in Reims, Soissons cathedral, Tours cathedral, the Abbey church of Saint Germain-des-Prés in Paris, Saint Urbain in Troyes, Sens cathedral, Saint-Ouen in Rouen, and Rouen cathedral. Individual entries, such as the story of how an important panel from a window of c. 1245–48 depicting King Louis IX carrying the Crown of Thorns was sold to the museum as having come from, ‘a church in Troyes’ only to be re-identified as belonging to Tours cathedral by Corpus Vitrearum (US) Committee member, Linda Papanicolaou, make fascinating reading. [See notes below for further information about the iconography of this subject.]
Another major plus of the catalogue is the attention it devotes to grisaille glass, revealing the rich patterns that were devised by the artists who made them.
Although the majority of the French entries – 52 of 86 – date from the thirteenth century, the catalogue also describes the Museum’s holdings of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century glass, including notable examples attributed to Burgundy.
English glass, by contrast, is less well represented on many levels. Although it features a twelfth-century panel from Canterbury Cathedral and a good collection of late medieval armorial glass, the exact provenance of the museum’s most significant figurative glass depicting standing figures of saints and apostles, dating from c.1480, remains uncertain.
The books are extremely well illustrated and provided with exemplary detailed indexes. They are monumental works of reference which have the added bonus of being enjoyable to read as well as indispensable. Having finished them, my immediate reaction was to ring an American friend to ask when the next volumes would be published.
But as with so many big and lavishly illustrated catalogues, when they appear they are likely to expensive; too expensive for most general readers. Previous issues of Vidimus have praised the example of the German (Freiberg) CVMA in producing beautifully illustrated 100 page books at affordable prices. Hopefully the publishers of the American volumes will one day be able to produce something similar, summarised versions that everyone can afford.
In the meantime readers who want a cheaper but less informative introduction to the riches of the museum’s stained glass collection, might find used copies of the checklist compiled by Jane Hayward and published in Madeline Caviness et. al., Stained Glass before 1700 in American Collections: New England and New York, (Corpus Vitrearum Checklist I) Washington, 1985, (see pp. 92–178) a good introduction. Copies can normally be found on-line via websites such as: Abe Books (www.abebooks.com).
In 1239 the French King, Louis IX, bought the reputed Crown of Thorns worn by the crucified Christ from the Byzantine emperor, Baudoin II. Two years later the king purchased more ‘Passion’ relics, including a large section of the True Cross, and built a chapel within his royal palace in Paris to house them – The Sainte-Chapelle. The glazing of the chapel includes a window depicting the story of the relics and includes a scene of St Louis carrying the Crown. The Tours cathedral panel was made shortly after these events, probably by a Parisian workshop.
Note: Apart from the volume reviewed above, the Corpus Vitrearum (USA) has produced two other catalogues of stunning quality: Stained Glass before 1700 in Upstate New York, by Meredith Parsons Lillich, and Stained Glass before 1700 in the Midwest States (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio) by Virginia Chieffo Raguin and Helen Jackson Zakin, with contributions by Elizabeth Carson Paston. Both volumes will be reviewed in forthcoming issues of Vidimus.