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The Four Modes of Seeing; Approaches to Medieval Imagery in Honor of Madeline Harrison Caviness, edited by Evelyn Staudinger Lane, Elizabeth Carson Pastan and Ellen M. Shortell. Ashgate, 2009, 598 pages, 146 b/w illustrations, 244 x 172 mm, h/b, ISBN 978-0-7546-6010-1: £65.00.
This is one of the most important books about medieval art to be published in recent years and will be of great value to stained glass historians. Produced as a festschrift in honour of the CVMA author, Professor Madeline Harrison Caviness, it consists of thirty original essays which apart from discussing stained glass, also cover many of Madeline’s other interests, such as gender studies and how art has been collected and why. The editors deserve immense credit for overseeing such a large and varied book and making its ideas available to a wider audience. It is almost certainly likely to become a standard reference book for students of stained glass, as nearly half of the essays contribute original research to this subject. To whet our readers’ appetite for this substantial volume, brief summaries of the stained glass essays are included in this review.
Renée Burnham begins the volume with a discussion about the Fenestra Rotunda Magna (great round window) window in Siena Cathedral (Italy) made around 1287–88, with a diameter of six metres (19.5 ft). After reaffirming that it was designed and largely painted by the Sienese artist Duccio di Buoninsegna (c1255 – c1318), the author explores the collaborative role of an as yet unknown master glazier in the making of this window. Apart from the cutting, firing, and leading skills provided by the glaziers, she also argues that areas of hatching and stickwork are likely to have been contributed by glass painters, an opinion she also extends to some of the borders of the window. Italian glass of this period is less well known than examples produced in England, France and Germany. Indeed some writers have argued that the craft was weak in the peninsula until the 14th century. This essay, together with other research cited by the author, goes some way in redressing that generalisation by suggesting that Italian glaziers could only have acquired the skills to work on demanding projects such as the Occhio di Duccio if they had not already learned their craft on other significant commissions elsewhere in Italy.
Michael Cothren is an acclaimed expert on the glass of Beauvais cathedral in northern France. While writing his seminal work on these windows, Picturing the Celestial City (2006), he was able to inspect three windows in the Virgin Chapel at close quarters. Installed in the 1280s they show scenes from the Maternity of the Virgin in the left lancet light, a Jesse tree with kings and prophets in the right lancet and a rose window in the epicentre above.
Although the windows had previously been identified as the product of a distinctive regional style, Cothren goes one step further, plotting the work of three different artists or ‘hands’ in the windows, a discovery which prompts a number of questions. These include why the work of what he calls the ‘soft’ and ‘trough’ hand artists seem more prominent in the upper half of the windows than the lower; was it because it was appreciated less than by those commissioning or seeing the windows? Again, why did the third member of the trio, the man he describes as the ‘hard style’ artist paint the important sacramental crucifixion image and the lower scenes? Was he the master or ‘principal painter’ of a team organised on hierarchical principles? And if so, how does that working arrangement sit with other windows in the church which must have been painted by one or more artist yet adhere to a single style without any discernible deviations?
Just these few questions provoke a flurry of others about training, standards, workshop practices, artistic individuality, the adoption of new styles in medieval workshops, none of which would be possible without art historians like Michael Cothren seeing and learning from the objects themselves. [Fig 1]
Some of these themes reappear in the contribution of Virginia Chieffo Raguin to the book. A leading member of the Corpus Vitrearum in the US, her essay discusses the relationship between materials and art and reminds readers that medieval objects were regarded as important not just because of their function and the skill of the craftsman who made them but also because of the materials which were used.
Richard Marks, the author of the standard study of English Stained Glass during the Middle Ages (1993), unveils a fascinating story about a glazing scheme proposed by Sir William Horne, a successful London stapler (wool merchant) who became Lord Mayor of London in 1486 and was knighted a year later. His will, dated 27 November 1494, left detailed instructions as to how he wished to be commemorated in the small parish church at Snailwell (Cambs) where his father was buried. His executors were, he insisted, to ‘make and cause all the glass now in the east window of the (south chapel) to be taken down and to be scowred and of new to be set up there’. His plan for the window included depictions of his father and mother and their 24 children, images of himself and his wife and their twelve children, together with his family coat of arms and scrolls asking for prayers. An image of the Coronation of the Virgin was to complete the scheme. The reference to ‘scowring’ is the only case known to the author in English glazing records. It certainly shows business acumen on Horne’s part as it involved keeping the existing glass but rubbing the old paint off with a substance like sand. In the event it is doubtful if the work was ever carried out. Sir William’s executors proved generally untrustworthy and other bequests were never fulfilled. No early glass now remains in the window. [Fig 2]
A groundbreaking essay by Rüdiger Becksmann uses modern auction catalogues and 20th-century photographs to significantly revise earlier conjectured reconstructions of the Marian-based glazing scheme which once filled seven triple lancet windows in the north aisle of the Carmelite monastic church at Boppard-on-Rhine, near Koblenz. Made in the 1440s, this glass was sold after the Napoleonic occupation of the Rhinelands and is now reasonably well-known as panels can now be found on both sides of the Atlantic, for example in the Schnütgen museum in Cologne, the Burrell collection in Scotland and in the Cloisters Museum (New York) and the Detroit Institute of Art in Michigan.
Positioning a window showing the Virgin Mary and Christ as the Man of Sorrows above an enthroned king Solomon (the Throne of Solomon) as originally filling the east window of the north aisle, the author skilfully uses new information to reorder the late Jane Hayward’s scheme (see: ‘Stained Glass Windows from the Carmelite Church at Boppard-am-Rhein. A Reconstruction of the Glazing Program of the North Nave’, Metropolitan Museum Journal 2, 1969, pp. 75–11) and identifies Jacob von Swirck, the Archbishop of Trier (1439 –1456) as the principal donor of this important and unusual scheme. [Fig 3]
Evelyn Staudlinger Lane focuses on the glazing of Noyon Cathedral in northern France, superficially an unpromising project as the church has less surviving medieval glass than any of the other great cathedrals surrounding Paris. Indeed, its extant glass is limited to a few historiated panels depicting scenes from the life of St Pantalen (a fourth-century Christian martyr regarded as the patron saint of physicians and midwives), some border fragments and two circular grisaille panels. However, using the texts of two manuscripts (dated 1185 and 1425–29 respectively), the author has been able to discover much about the cathedral’s original iconographical programme. The first document describes the bell ringers’ duties, which included helping to clean the glass, prompting the author to conclude that at least the choir, transept and the last bay of the nave were glazed by the time that Philip II, king of France (1180 –1223) visited the city in 1186. More information is provided by the later document which contains a fascinating inventory of 640 stained glass panels repaired by a 15th-century restorer named Pierre Le Verrier under the direction of one of the cathedral canons. By tallying text entries with careful measurements of window sizes, the author suggests that at least 36 windows in the cathedral were glazed, of which nine depicted incidents from the lives of saints. She also suggests that these ‘legend windows’ were in the lower levels of the church where they could be seen easily and that most of the painted glass was concentrated on the south side of the eastern end of the cathedral.
The contribution of stained glass to modern ideas about the Gothic cathedral as a ‘holistic experience’ is one of the themes examined in a superbly written essay by Paul Crossley. After reminding readers of the consensus that cathedrals, especially in northern France, deserve to be treated as totalities of glass, sculpture, architecture and other sacred arts he also warns against attempts to go beyond this by assuming that they were the product of some all-encompassing blueprint or single integrated idea which synthesised art, liturgy and culture, both political and ideological, into a final harmonious whole. The problems summed up by the famous ‘windows of the trades’ in Chartres cathedral are cited. Until about thirty years ago it was widely assumed that these windows, which take their name from the representations of different trades or occupations such as wine growers, masons and money-changers depicted in the lower panels, were donated to the church by local businesses as part of a major rebuilding campaign which followed a disastrous fire. But modern art historians have probed deeper. Who was the piper, who called the tune? Was the glazing scheme we see today designed by the clergy as part of a vast single idea or were there compromises, adjustments, changes, as the Chapter cajoled and negotiated donations from wealthy groups? If a cash-strapped clergy had to seek donations on such a scale, who had the final say about what and where the windows appeared? Do the windows reflect a devout and happy community with donors willing and proud to donate to their cathedral or are there layers of conflict and power that we are overlooking? Recent research has discovered bitter conflicts between the clergy and the town during this period. Do the windows portray ‘real’ donors or are they part of a gigantic hoax woven by the clergy to suggest harmony where there was precious little? Rather than see Gothic cathedrals as a single idea, devised at a single moment, the author draws on the 12th-century writings of Abbot Suger (c.1080–1151) at Saint – Denis, in which he aspires to marry the material and immaterial, the earthly and the spiritual into a single unity (Respublica una), as the closest we can come to what 12th century builders may have described as a ‘holistic cathedral’.
The late Anne Prache (see obituary in Vidimus 29) adds a further dimension to this discussion by refining conventional opinion and suggesting that the study of stained glass windows can help to resolve some unresolved questions about the dating and construction of particular buildings.
The stained glass at Chartres cathedral, 60 miles (96 km) south west of Paris, is examined by Claudine Lautier of the French CVMA. Starting from Madeline Caviness’ observation that the iconography of windows was often associated with the placement of altars and relics, the author reveals that two-thirds of the stained glass windows at Chartres can be related to holy relics owned by the cathedral. Among them, a long piece of white silk, known as the ‘Virgin’s tunic’ or Sancta Camisa, and said to have been worn by Mary during the Annunciation, possibly the Nativity and even her Death, was the highest prized. Given to the church in AD876 by Charles the Bald, the Holy Roman Emperor, it drew vast numbers of pilgrims to the cathedral for centuries. Lautier shows that many of the windows related to this relic, helping to create a sacred topography for the building. They include the famous Belle-Verriere, which portrays the Virgin wearing the tunic, and the History of Charlemagne window which shows the initial acquisition of the relic by Charles’ greatest predecessor. Further relationships between the windows and the relic are evident in a sophisticated theological arrangement which the German stained glass scholar Ivo Rauch has shown represent the theme of the Ark of the Covenant, an idea symbolised by the tenth-century reliquary chasse in which the relic was kept [Fig.4]
Michael T. Davis argues that the French 13th-century Rayonnant style of architecture with its emphasis on whittling down structural mass in favour of windows with elaborate tracery was deliberately conceived by designers as a framework for seeing imagery. Using the example of Clermont cathedral in the Auvergne region, he suggests that the building was designed to orchestrate a complete ‘viewing experience’ for the display of stained glass, wall paintings and sculpture through which the audience would have experienced a ‘spiritual vision of the celestial’.
Ellen Shortfell concentrates on the interaction between the clergy and some donors at the former collegiate church of Saint Quentin in the Aisne region of northern France. Discussing donor panels of c.1200, she identifies the four kneeling figures as female (some now have 19th century male heads) with those on the left holding a miniature replica of the main window and those on the right with a sack of coins. The gifts are described in labels below the windows: ISTA VITREA (this window) and AES VIDUARUM (the widows’ money). Shortfell suggests that the donation may reflect French property law around 1200 when it was ‘relatively uncommon’ for widows to administer their own estates. Apart from actual piety, one way of protecting their assets was to give their property to the church while preserving its use for the rest of their lifetimes. [Fig 5]
Brigitte Kurmann – Schwarz discusses how audiences were encouraged to ‘read’, rather than merely see, the narrative windows in the choir of the former abbey church of Königsfelden in Switzerland (see Vidimus 25, January 2009). Compositions were self-contained within windows in order that viewers could contemplate and reflect on what they were shown. At the same time the separate units were skilfully merged into a unified narrative and placed in relation to other windows in the choir where the images corresponded.
Meredith Parsons Lillich recently completed a study of the stained glass at Rheims cathedral, the former coronation church of France (publication forthcoming). Here, she discusses a scheme of two rows of seated figures in the choir clerestories of the church, apostles above, bishops below, probably made in the 1230s. Focusing on why only a few of the surviving bishops have inscriptions recording their identity, she resolves the anomaly by concluding that they are post-medieval insertions, probably added around 1580 when interest in honouring the history of the cathedral was high.
Marilyn Beaven from the Metropolitan Museum in New York provides a fascinating introduction to how the English dealer, Grosvenor Thomas, almost single-handedly created an American appetite for collecting medieval stained glass in the early part of the last century. Arriving in New York in 1913 he targeted museums and private clients alike. Many of the panels he sold are now valuable objects in museum collections. Before he died in 1923 his son Roy took over the business with his partner, Wilfred Drake.
Alexandre Lenoir (1761–1839) is a generally little known and somewhat controversial figure whose contribution to the modern appreciation of early stained glass is of great historical importance. CVMA author Mary Shepard discusses his short-lived Musée des monuments francais (1790–1816) in Paris in the aftermath of the French Revolution where he collected and displayed stained glass in a number of ‘atmospheric’ period settings. Although considerable amounts of glass was damaged while in his ‘care’, including windows from Saint-Denis, the author argues that his efforts brought attention to the importance of medieval stained glass at a difficult period in French national life.
Elizabeth Carson Paston discusses the effect of power struggles in 12th- and 13th-century Troyes on artistic patronage in the city. She describes how noblemen began, what this reviewer is tempted to call an ‘arts race’, by endowing their own collegiate church of Saint-Etienne in the 12th century and how subsequent shifts in wealth and authority saw bishops rebuild the cathedral in the early 13th century on a scale to equal the grandeur of the comital chapel. Although Saint-Etienne was destroyed during the French Revolution, the author reminds her readers that exquisite c. 1170–80 stained glass panels once thought to have been made for the cathedral, including the famous Temptation of Christ scenes in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, probably originated in this church. [Fig 6]
The final chapter about stained glass in this admirable volume is by CVMA (USA) author, Alyce Jordan and discusses the c. 1207 –1213 St Thomas Becket window in Sens cathedral, one of several such windows installed in French cathedrals (others include Chartres, Angers and Coutances) in the wake of Becket’s murder in 1170 and canonisation three years later.
Jordan argues that the window represented both a remembrance of Becket’s exile in Sens, undertaken after he refused to endorse the Constitutions of Clarendon (1164) which encroached on clerical immunity, and a celebration of the local archbishop, also a strong advocate for the rights of the church. The author considers the iconography of the window in the context of the ‘reform movement’ initiated by Pope Gregory VII (the Gregorian reforms) in the late eleventh century which called for ‘an autonomous church free of secular interference and rededicated to its early apostolic mission of pastoral care’. Particular attention is drawn to the way the window represents the French king, Louis VII as a pious defender of the church in contrast to the tyrannical reign of the English monarchs Henry II and John.
A final entry of interest is a complete bibliography of Madeline Caviness’s work.
Other impressive contributions to this excellent book are: Timothy B. Husband, ‘The Asseburg-Hedwig Glass Re-emerges; Peter J. Fergusson, ‘Prior Wilbert’s Fountain Houses: Service and Symbolism at Christ church, Canterbury; Dorothy Gillerman, ‘The Center Portal on the West Facade at Reims: Axes of Meaning; Elizabeth C. Parker, ‘Modes of Seeing Margaret of Antioch at Fornovo di Taro’; Pamela Sheingorn, ‘ Subjection and Reception in Claude of France’s Book of First Prayers; Martha Easton, ‘ ‘Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man’, Transforming and Transcending Gender in the Lives of Female Saints’; Joan A. Holliday, ’Women in English Royal Genealogies of the Late Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth Centuries’; Charles G. Nelson,’ Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Reflections on the Performance of Authority in Eike von Repgow’s Sachsenspiegel’; Corine Schlief, ’ St Hedwig’s Personal Ivory Madonna: Women’s Agency and the Powers of Possessing Portable Figures’; Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, ‘Boniface VIII and his Self-Representation: Images and Gestures; Elizabeth A. R .Brown, ‘ Paris and Paradise: The View from Saint-Denis’; Cal. F. Barnes Jr., ‘ Apparitional Aesthetics: Viollet-le-Duc and Villard de Honnecourt’; and Sarah Stanbury, ‘ Pathos and Politics: Nicholas Love’s Mirror and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ’.
Special Offer to Vidimus Readers.
The publishers of this important book are pleased to offer a 20% discount on The Four Modes of Seeing to readers of Vidimus. To claim this discount order online from Ashgate Publishing. Enter the code H9CCB20 in the ‘Promotional Code’ field when prompted at the checkout stage. Offer ends 31 December 2009.
Hardman of Birmingham, Goldsmith and Glasspainter, Michael Fisher, Landmark, h/b, 250 pages, 2008, £25.00 ISBN 13: 978-1-84306-362-9.
This welcome addition to the literature on Victorian art and design traces the history of a celebrated maker of metalwork and stained glass from 1837 up to the present day.
The origins of the firm can be stated briefly. John Hardman Junior (1811–1867), was the son of a west midlands businessman who specialised in making elaborate buttons and medals. In 1837 he met the architect/designer Augustus Welby Pugin (1812 –1852) who was looking for someone to supply him with ecclesiastical metalware, such as candlesticks, chalices and crucifixes. In 1838 he expanded the family firm to provide such products and eight years later, in 1845, embarked on another highly successful collaboration with Pugin to make stained glass. [Fig. 1]
Michael Fisher is the archivist of the Hardman firm. Apart from chronicling the history of the firm, and illuminating its sometimes complicated evolution, his book includes a useful appendix about the extensive Hardman archives, now divided between various locations in Birmingham. There is also a helpful glossary of ecclesiastical terms.
Fisher describes the first period of glass making under Pugin’s direction as chief designer, demonstrating how his determination to achieve the highest possible standards (ie, the most authentically mediaeval and the most technically accomplished stained glass) created the firm’s reputation. Pugin’s fine work at, for example, St Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw; St Augustine’s church, Ramsgate; SS Thomas and Edmund of Canterbury, Erdington; and Jesus College, Cambridge, to name but a very few referred to by the author, all helped to enhance the firm’s profile. Success bred success, and Fisher calculates that between 1866 and the turn of the century 1,800 buildings were supplied with Hardman glass. The author attributes the expansion of the business, despite the ever-growing competition, to the influence of ecclesiology and Tractarianism (High Church Anglicanism), the building of many new churches and major restorations of others, and the fact that stained glass windows were increasingly the preferred form of commemoration for the wealthy middle classes.
The author also throws light on the contribution of the designers involved after Pugin’s early death in 1852. Premier among these was his pupil and son-in-law John Hardman Powell (1827–1895), a prolific and talented artist, who had learnt everything from Pugin, but whose style became his own. [Fig. 2]
Powell worked closely, but far from exclusively, with Edward Pugin (1834–1875), Pugin’s eldest son, a distinguished architect in his own right. Powell was followed as chief designer of the firm by, amongst others, his son Dunstan (1861–1932), John Tarleton Hardman (1873–1959), Donald Taunton (1885–1965) and Patrick Feeny (1910–1996). In the background, from the mid-1850s up to the 1930s, hover the intriguing figures of the Pippet family, father and three sons, not exactly stained glass designers as such, but accomplished artists and craftsmen, providing versatile and indispensable backup, in the form of exquisite wall paintings, mosaics, and embroidery designs.
Employees at Hardman’s were expected to be Catholics, as Hardman and Pugin were. Yet while many commissions were undertaken for Catholic clients, enormous numbers of Anglican churches, and cathedrals, including those at Worcester (a particularly fine west window by Hardman Powell) and Carlisle, also sought the firm’s glass. In the 20th century even a synagogue, Singers Hill in Birmingham, commissioned twenty-seven Hardman windows. Various Victorian architects of note, in addition of course to Edward Pugin’s important work with Hardman’s, used the firm in connection with their church building schemes, including William Butterfield, Henry Woodyer, and Richard Cromwell Carpenter. Hardman’s also designed heraldic glass, notably at the Palace of Westminster, where, in Pugin’s lifetime extensive major schemes were carried out by the firm, work which was continued under John Hardman Powell. The Pugin/Hardman windows in the House of Commons were all destroyed in World War Two, and restoring much of the glass at Westminster was a major commission for the firm in the period after the war. Heraldic glass was also designed by Pugin for the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury at Alton Towers, and elsewhere. Decorative domestic glass was a considerable part of the firm’s work as well, as for example that produced by Hardman Powell, for the eastern section of Scarisbrick Hall, Lancashire, c.1862, and at Meanwood Towers, Leeds, in the 1870s. At the present time, domestic glass is still being undertaken.
From the late 1840s onwards, Hardman windows went out to countless places overseas – from Ireland (Pugin’s St Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney, for example) to Tasmania (Hobart, where Pugin had a particular connection with the Catholic Bishop Willson). From 1882, the firm supplied the Australian Catholic cathedrals of St Mary’s, Sydney, and St Patrick’s, Melbourne. Indeed, one of the most revealing aspects of this book is the extent to which Hardman’s were supported in business by overseas commissions, notably from the USA in the earlier part of the 20th century. An impressively long appendix lists all the American work undertaken, up to 1935. [Fig. 3]
After that date, however, following the emergence of more American stained glass firms, competition from James Powell & Sons (no relation), and the lessening popularity of the Gothic style, commissions from the US fell off until recently, when a resurgence in American church building has generated more business for the firm. Unexpectedly perhaps, work has also come from Japan, where there is a liking for traditional ‘church’ weddings, and where new chapels are built to exacting standards. Hardman’s have produced various windows for these, including a fine Coronation of Our Lady for the San Marco Basilica, Moji. [Fig. 4]
Hardman’s owes its survival in the later 20th century to the idealistic Edgar and Margaret Phillips, who, realising the firm’s historic importance and anxious to preserve it at all costs, acquired the business in 1974, when Patrick Feeny retired. The business, now named Pugin, Hardman & Powell, is currently run, with similar commitment, by the Phillips’ son, Neil.
Although the name of Pugin does not actually appear in the title of this book, the character, approach and standards of the stained glass produced by Hardman’s were shaped entirely by him. Indeed, the whole ethos of the firm was created to deliver what he called the ‘real (sometimes the ‘true’) thing’. By this he meant that ecclesiastical fixtures, fittings and decorative schemes should embody a style which was appropriate to the Gothic churches he designed, and the pre-Reformation liturgy he hoped to see in use. Although stained glass was a massively important aspect of the firm’s work, it was also a part, certainly in the 19th century, of an all-embracing vision. More recently, glass commissions have sometimes posed certain stylistic problems, and may have necessitated some divergence from Pugin’s intentions. In the main, though, the concepts that he laid down originally have always been, a greater or lesser extent, a constant in the continuing history of the firm. Pugin, Hardman & Powell, have ridden out some difficult times, in the face of re-orderings of churches and modernist tendencies in design. However, they have always adhered to figurative work, and still have the skill and technique to accomplish it. This means that they are currently in a position to undertake work which others, who have not had that traditional training, would now find very difficult to produce.
Michael Fisher has imposed order and lucidity upon an enormous amount of material, welding it into an informative and readable whole, including a large number of enjoyable illustrations and much intimate detail, and writing with obvious affection and care about his subject. As far as the glass is concerned, he has traced the whole development of the firm’s activities through from 1845 to the present day. What can we learn from his account? Something, perhaps, about ‘the power of Gothic to reinvent itself, to inspire people of different cultures and traditions, to integrate art and faith’, to use Fisher’s own words.
Prague and Bohemia: Medieval Art, Architecture and Cultural Exchange in Central Europe, ed. Zoë Opačić, British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions XXXII, , s/b, s/b editions, 247 pages, 8 colour plates, plus b/w illustrations Leeds, Maney, 2009, price p/b edition: £36. For more information see: http://www.maney.co.uk/
This book consists of an introduction by Dr Zoë Opačić and fifteen papers presented at the 2006 British Archaeological Association conference in Prague, the gothic jewel of medieval Bohemia and now the capital of the Czech Republic. [Fig. 1]
Many of the essays are contributed by leading Czech scholars and the result is a specialist volume with well-informed and sometimes provocative articles which will greatly improve our knowledge and appreciation of Prague’s pivotal role in late medieval European culture. It can be hoped that the precedent is establishes will now be extended to other European cities, particularly Vienna and Cracow. Although little stained glass survives from medieval Bohemia (see NOTE), there is – in addition to one essay about an important glazing scheme – much contextual material here for stained glass enthusiasts and scholars.
Slavic Bohemia developed Christian roots in the 9th century and by the tenth century Prague was an important central European entrepot for east-west trade.
Before 929 a young prince named Wenceslas, subsequently murdered and revered as a martyr, built a church in the city dedicated to St Vitus, a saint whose cult was anchored in Saxony and from which he received relics from Henry the Fowler, Duke of Saxony and King of Germany, the father of Otto I. A Bishopric was established before 969 and a Romanesque cathedral built around the end of the 11th century. Zdenĕk Dargoun produces a useful introduction to this period of the city’s architectural growth which saw the castle extended and dozens of churches, important monastic foundations and bridges built as well as two – and three- storey homes of which vestiges of more than sixty five survive from the 12th and first part of the 13th centuries.
While construction work in and around the city continued in the 13th and early 14th centuries with examples such as the Bishop’s chapel at nearby Kyje and a royal complex in the city centre known as ‘The House at the stone bell’ – discussed by Eric Fernie and Klára Benešovká respectively – the turning point in the kingdom’s history was the accession to the throne in 1310 of John, Count of Luxemburg, as a result of his marriage to Elizabeth Přemysolvna, the sister of sister of the deceased monarch. When he was killed by the English at the battle of Crecy in 1336 ‘Blind John’ was succeeded by his French educated son, Charles IV (1316–1378) whose subsequent election as Holy Roman Emperor in 1346 saw him transform Prague into a splendid imperial city, building a New Town (Nové Město) in the French manner, founding a university and rebuilding Prague cathedral.
Several chapters discuss the architectural inventiveness of the cathedral: Paul Crossley scrutinises the high choir of the cathedral, begun c. 1370 and completed by 1385 and its relationship to earlier buildings associated with the architect Peter Parler; Milena Bartlová argues that the credit for building the church lies with the cathedral chapter not Charles as is commonly supposed; Marc Carel Schurr looks at a parallel work of Peter Parler’s, the choir of St Bartholomew in Kolin, and Tim Jukes examines how architectural ideas spread from Prague to northern Hungary.
Charles IV regularly commissioned art to express his power and authority. One example of such art consisted of a now lost wall painting in Karlstein castle tracing his genealogy back to Noah, the first righteous man. But all was not well at home or elsewhere. After his death in 1378, the powerful Habsburg dynasty in Vienna began to undermine his heir and successor, Wenceslas IV.
Andreas Puth’s chapter will be of particular interest to Vidimus readers as it invokes the role of a quite different type of genealogical ‘tree’ in these machinations. Sometime in the 1380s the then head of the Habsburgs, Albrecht III, Duke of Austria, commissioned five windows for a royal chapel in St Stephen’s cathedral, Vienna, a 14th-century gothic church heavily derivative of St Vitus’s cathedral in Prague. According to a description of the glazing scheme before it was removed in the 19th century, the west window depicted St Michael and three female saints while the two windows in the eastern bay showed the Adoration of the Magi (westernmost) and Christ with a sceptre together with the stoning of St Stephen (the patron of the church) in the easternmost lights. The most spectacular scheme, however, was reserved for the two south windows where twelve Habsburg princes were depicted sitting in tiers of three. Now displayed in several museums, the figures were identified by inscriptions and set below impressive ‘fantasy architecture’. Each prince was individually characterised and all held royal sceptres linking them to the image of Christ mentioned earlier, the relationship between heavenly power and earthly rule, and the history of Christian kingship personified by the Three Magi. Unlike the Karlstein castle ‘tree’ it was a highly selective family genealogy which began with a real ‘political’ ancestor King Rudolf 1 (1218 –1291), King of the Romans 1273 until his death, followed by other adult members of Albrecht’s branch of the family. The author concludes that ‘the commissioning of the Habsburg windows can hardly be disassociated from his (Albrecht’s) active opposition to Wenceslas and his pursuit of political schemes to reclaim the imperial crown for the Habsburg dynasty’. [Figs. 2 and 3]
By the late Middle Ages Charles’ capital had become one of the most cosmopolitan and sophisticated cities in Europe. His territories extended into Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Low Countries and northern Italy. Artists flocked to his city. Arranged marriages and diplomacy saw his – and its – influence grow and a particularly beautiful variant of the ‘international gothic’ artistic style developed. Marek Suchýs chapter explores one of these diplomatic alliances, the marriage between Charles’ daughter, Anne of Luxemburg, and England’s Richard II (1367 – 1400) which saw news, gifts and artistic ideas exchanged between the two countries. Another, by Agnieszka Roznowska-Sadraei considers how Bohemian royal influence led to the cult of St Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia overtaking that of St Stanilas, Poland’s own pater patriae, at Cracow cathedral. Two essays are particularly interesting for the light they throw on religious devotion. The first by Evelin Wetter traces a particular form of iconography developed in Bohemia which portrayed the Holy Cross as the Tree of Life on embroidered chasubles of the period; the other by Achim Timmermann explains how so-called ‘poor sinners’ crosses’, religious structures erected at places of public execution where the condemned could seek hope in the moments before the terror of their deaths, were part of a ‘moralising gloss on the visible world, filling Europe’s late medieval landscapes with images and monuments which served as timeless reminders of virtue and salvation’. An essay by Milada Studničkova which suggests that the painted staircase at Karlstein castle leading to the Holy Cross chapel where Charles kept important sacred relics, including part of the Crown of Thorns, was intended as a theological metaphor – a Heavenly Ladder leading to a Heavenly Jerusalem – has interesting implications for understanding other medieval decorative schemes. Contributions by Jan Chlibec on the blossoming of art in Franciscan monasteries after the ravages of the Hussite wars and Tatána Petrosova on the rebuilding of Prague in the 19th century complete a significant book which should be read alongside the more extensively illustrated Metropolitan Museum’s 2006 catalogue of their ‘Prague The Crown of Bohemia 1347 –1437’ exhibition.
Very little stained glass from medieval Bohemia survives. The usual tale of iconoclasm, war, neglect and decay has taken a particularly high toll. Documentary sources indicate that Prague’s Romanesque cathedral was glazed – but far less his known about its Gothic successor. Twenty individuals named as sklenarz – glaziers – are recorded as living in the city between 1349 and 1419 but it remains unclear what this term might have covered. As some were affiliated to the Brotherhood of St Luke, an artists’ guild in the city, it seems likely, however, that painters may have been among them. In 1413 a glazier named Claus is listed as one the guild’s leaders. The Museum of Decorative Arts (Uměleckoprůmyslové muzeum) has three late 14th-century lancets from the church of All Saints, Slivenec. František Matouš’s , CVMA study Mittelalterliche Glasmalerei in der Tschechoslowakei, published by the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, Prague, 1975, remains the standard work on the subject.
Vidimus is grateful to Peter Stuiber and the Wien Museum, Vienna, for providing the photographs for this review.
Dr Paul Taylor of London’s Warburg Institute writes:
This scene shows the story of Achior in the book of Judith in the Old Testament.
According to the Book of Judith (5.5–6.10), Achior was a General of the Ammonites, who warned Holofernes, the warlike Assyrian General, not to attack the Israelites as their God would defend them. Working on the premise that those who were not for him were against him, Holofernes ordered that Achior be bound and taken to the Israeli army camped in the mountains at Bethilia so that he could die alongside them when they were crushed. His soldiers did as they were told but when they came under fire from ‘slingers’, they left Achior tied to a tree and fled. When the Israelites found him, they cut his ropes and welcomed him.
The most famous incident in the book is when Judith charms her way into Holofernes’ tent as the Assyrian army besieges Bethilia, and decapitates him as he sleeps. After seeing the head of his foe in her hands, Achior was circumcised, and joined to Israel (Judith 14).
The Book of Judith is a deuterocanonical book, included in the Septuagint and in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian Old Testament of the Bible, but excluded by Protestants. The King James Bible lists it under Apocrypha. Readers can find the story by visiting the TEXTS section of LINKS pages and following the Bible links. [Figs. 1 and 2]
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