The Wonderful Stained Glass of Werben
Die mittelalterlichen Glasmalereien in der Werbener Johanniskirche, by Monika Böning. Mit einem Regestenteil von Ulrich Hinz. Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi (Deutschland), Bd. XIX, 1, Berlin, Akademie Verlag, 2007. Hardback, 319 pages, 294 b/w illustrations, 23 colour plates, ISBN 978-3-05-004142-. German text only. Price € 69.80
In 1927 Charles Hitchcock Sherrill, a former US Ambassador to Argentina, published the last volume in his easy-reading series of travelogues about stained glass, Stained Glass Tours in Germany, Austria and the Rhine Lands. Among his recommended destinations was the glass at St John’s church, Werben, ‘an ancient town tucked away in an elbow of the river Elbe, eight kilometres beyond Havelburg’ (now part of Saxony-Anhalt). In keeping with the author’s general approach, nearly half the entry recounted the problems he faced getting to this remote spot rather than describing the glass he found after his arrival, much of which he characterised as ‘quaint’ and ‘crude’.
Despite its glaring shortcomings this slim account remains one of the few English language descriptions of the extensive glazing in this church. Hopefully the publication of this outstanding CVMA volume by Monika Böning, together with its superb photographs, will finally alert the non-German speaking world to the treasures of Werben: three different medieval glazing schemes by at least seven different workshops producing paintings which range from the exquisite to the idiosyncratic. As with other volumes by the same author the book benefits immensely from her comprehensive knowledge of contemporary Germanic glazing schemes and art, which enable us to follow links and currents across states and countries.
The history of the church can be summarised briefly. In 1160 Albrecht der Bär, (’the Bear’), the Margrave of Brandenburg, gave land and money to the Knight’s Hospitallers, (the Order of St John of Jerusalem) for a commandery (an estate under a commander of a knightly order) at Werben. Initially very little seems to have happened but in the early thirteenth century the Order built a basilica (Phase1), and later, in the fourteenth century, extended the original church, adding a transept and possibly a new choir (Phase 2). Further extensions occurred in the fifteenth century when a new nave was built c.1411 (Phase 3) and a new choir with three apses erected in 1463–67 (Phase 4.)
Funds for the building campaigns came from members of the Order itself, members of the local parish who also used the church, and gifts from wealthy individuals such as the Margraves. [Fig. 1]
Nothing is known about any glazing schemes installed in Phase I. Glazing from Phases 2, 3 and 4 does survive however, and in the latter cases, quite extensively.
The Phase 2 panels have been dated, on stylistic grounds, to around 1360. They consist of two episodes from a once larger cycle narrating the Life of St Petrus (Peter) (now nIV, 6a and nIV 6c) and a panel showing the Baptism of Christ (now sIV, 5b). The survival (and reuse) of this glass suggests that more panels might have transferred from the old church to the new. The original location of the glass is unknown.
By contrast with the scant remains of the earlier glass, significant amounts of the third phase glazing scheme survive
The first includes scenes from the Book of Genesis, including a depiction of the serpent as a crowned woman (now in the main choir window (sII); The Virgin and Child with apostles below (now nX); the fragments of the Annunciation (now nVI); fragments of the Adoration of the Magi; the Baptism of Christ; The Coronation of the Virgin (all sV); a priest elevating the host at the climax of the Mass (sV); and an interesting scene of the Crucifixion of Christ flanked by Ecclesia and Synagoga (nXI). [Fig 2]
The author dates these paintings to 1410–20 and argues that although they show stylistic analogies with Bohemian art of the period, the glass was probably made by a local workshop which had assimilated the ‘soft’ international gothic style promoted in Prague whilst retaining its own western characteristics. She cites the work of the Dortmund-based artist Conrad von Soest (c 1370–c. 1422) and wall paintings in the Redekin oratory in Magdeburg cathedral as other examples of this dual style, drawing particular attention to similarities between an angel in the latter scheme and an angel at Werben (now in sVI).
Two features of the glass deserve mention. The Genesis window in sII includes a depiction of the serpent who beguiled Eve as a woman wearing a crown. Portrayals of the serpent as a woman with the lower part of her body coiled around the Tree of Knowledge are not uncommon. Examples can be found in other German schemes in Ulm Minster and Erfert cathedral as well as at Fairford church in Gloucestershire, England. The aim seems to be to show the serpent who tempted Eve also working through Eve to tempt Adam. The crown may signify the beauty of the serpent. [Fig 3]
The Crucifixion scene also merits discussion on several grounds. Unusually, the Hill of Golgotha is stained red by Christ’s blood. The flanking figures beside the main scene show Ecclesia receiving a crown from a heavenly hand and riding the Tetramorph (a creature with the heads of eagle, human, lion and bull, symbolizing the Four Gospels). She holds the flag of the cross and a Eucharist chalice in her hands. In comparison to this image of victory, the Jewish church, Synagoga, is depicted as a woman on an ass or donkey which is about to collapse. She is also blindfolded (indicating her inability to see the truth of the New Testament), her right hand holds the head of a bearded male goat, her crown is toppling, and the staff of her flag is broken. Worst still, a heavenly hand descends from the clouds to plunge a sword into her head and body. In 2001 Achim Timmermann suggested that these images were the fragmentary remains of a rare Eucharistic allegory known as the Living Cross or Lebendes Kreuz in which hands, gesturing or wielding instruments, emerge from the arms of a cross to which Christ has been nailed. (see ‘The Avenging Crucifix: Some Observations on the Iconography of the Living Cross’ Gesta, Vol. 40, No. 2 (2001), pp. 141–160).
In this image the hands at the top and bottom of the vertical stem open the gates of heaven and destroy hell respectively, while those descending from the pati-bulum (the horizontal bar) pass judgment on the personifications of Church and Synagogue standing or riding beneath them. Closer examination of the Werben panels now shows that this is not the case. [Fig 4]
The second glazing campaign may have been commissioned around the same time and is the product of a separate workshop without any other known surviving examples. The paintings are closer to the style to those of sculptures in the Magdeburg area such as the figures of donors in the Franciscan church at Barby than other glass. They include a dramatic Last Judgment scene (nV), the Resurrection of the Dead (nVI), the Temptation of a Sovereign by the Devil (nVI) and Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee with ‘the sinful woman’ washing and anointing his feet (nV). [Fig 5]
The final contribution to the glazing of the nave was made about 1430/40 by yet another unidentified workshop whose style seems similar to that of a sculptural relief on the exterior wall of the choir depicting Christ in prayer on the Mount of Olives than to any other glass. They show angels flanking a representation of the Brazen sea, (a huge bronze priestly liturgical vessel in Solomon’s temple resting on oxen) and standing figures of paired saints: St Katherine, St Dorothy; St Odilia (seventh Century French born, Abbess of Hohenburg und Niedermunster), St Matthew; St Peter and St Andrew.
The author suggests that the three schemes formed part of an overall programme which may have been a reaction to the spread of heretical ideas in Brandenburg in the early fifteenth century. In 1415 the Bohemian radical Jan Huss (c.1372–1415) had been burned at the stake for denying clerical authority. The inclusion of Eucharistic imagery alongside others exalting the triumph of the church over its challengers was a pictorial reaffirmation of orthodox doctrine. The role of the Margrave and the Knight’s Hospitallers as defenders of the church may have added another layer of meaning and identification to these windows.
The final glazing campaign can be dated to 1460/70 after the rebuilding of the choir and apsidial chapels. Once again, more than one workshop seems to have been involved, perhaps because the work had to be done in a hurry or because different donors had their own preferences.
The first workshop was clearly known to the Margrave of Brandenburg, Friedrich II (1413–1471), whose coat of arms appears in window sII. Badges of the Fraternity of the Virgin Mary – the so-called ‘Order of the Swan’ – which Friedrich founded in 1440 hang from a chain at the bottom of his blazon. The figures in this group of windows have soft-fold drapery and idealised faces reminiscent of the earlier international gothic style. They include images of the Death of the Virgin with the Apostles at her bedside, and the Coronation of the Virgin (nII) and could have been donated by Friedrich. The author links them to the output of a workshop which also provided panels for the Nikolaikirche (church of the Holy Blood of St Nicholas) in Bad Wilsnack, for the Jakobikirche (church of St James) in Stendal and for the cathedral in Brandenburg at around the same time.
By contrast the style of the second workshop appears far more contemporary than the first. It includes the arms of the Knights Hospitallers and the Brandenburg Bailiwick of the Order of Saint John of the Hospital at Jerusalem. The glass includes the standing figures of the Virgin and the Christ child flanked by St John the Baptist and St Gertrud of Nivelle, a seventh-century abbess of the Benedictine monastery of Nivelle in present-day Belgium, (window I); the Adoration of the Magi (nVII); a Crucifixion (sVI) and St Katherine (sVI). The use of parallel or crossed hatchings, black stain speckled with a paint brush and three dimensional drapery in these paintings is reminiscent of copper engravings of the period and suggests Upper Rhine/ Dutch influences. The author draws similarities between the glass paintings and work by artists, such as the Master E. S.(c 1420–c.1428), an otherwise unknown German engraver and printmaker, widely regarded as the most distinguished German engraver before Martin Schongauer, to illustrate the comparisons.(Fig 6]
The final workshop seems to have been responsible for the idiosyncratic, almost caricatured images of the donors of the Knights of St John in window nV. No other examples of its work are known. The knights are shown wearing black habits with white crosses. The inscriptions refer to a now lost statue of the Virgin Mary. [Fig.7]
The result was a scholastic summa of Catholic faith and doctrine which bathed worshippers in the light of salvation and images of the triumphant church and at least, in one instance, interacted with statuary.
The glass was extensively restored and rearranged in the nineteenth century, initially in 1873 by the Berlin-based glass painter Louis Müller and subsequently – and on a much larger scale – by the Königliche Institut für Glasmalerei in Berlin between 1888 and 1891. In 1985–67 and 1999–2000 the windows were provided with protective glazing.
This book is impressively researched and lavishly illustrated, with high production values throughout. After chapters tracing the history of the church and the art historical context of the glazing, a panel by panel catalogue of the glass, complete with restoration diagrams, makes the scheme intelligible to most non-German readers. Where possible the entries also signify the original locations of the window glass before the nineteenth-century rearrangements. A comprehensive bibliography will particularly appeal to scholars. A useful Regesten reproducing extracts of documents relating to the glazing of the church is provided by Ulrich Hinz. Perhaps more than anything, however, this extremely welcome book shines a spotlight on glaziers and glazing in Brandenburg during the Middle Ages and what a rich seam it reveals. Charles Sherrill might have been and seen, but this book indisputably conquers.
Charlemagne and Chartres Cathedral
The Legend of Charlemagne in the Middle Ages: Power, Faith, and Crusade. Edited by Matthew Gabriele and Jace Stuckey. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008. Hardback, 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches, 200 pages, some b/w illustrations, price: $80.
This book consists of eight short essays on the legendary life of Charlemagne (Carolus Magnus meaning Charles the Great), a titantic figure in first millennium Christian Europe. One contribution in particular, a study of the mythical ‘Charlemagne’ window in Chartres cathedral, will be of special interest to Vidimus readers and is the main subject of this review.
First some background about the real Charlemagne. Born around AD 747 probably in Liège (modern Belgium), he was the son of Pippin the Short who was elected and anointed king of the Franks in AD 751 and whose accession saw the deposition of the Merovingian royal dynasty and the inauguration of Carolingian monarchs (known after Pippin’s father, Charles Martell). From AD 768 until his death in AD 814 Charlemagne was king of the Franks during which time he expanded his kingdom into an empire ruling much of western and central Europe. Between AD 772 and 776 he conquered Northern Italy. In AD 778 he led an army into muslim Spain, the first of several such Christian incursions. In Germany he conquered and converted the Saxons and later the Hungarians. On 25 December AD 800 he was crowned Imperator Romanorum (‘Emperor of the Romans’) by Pope Leo III, and likened to an equal of the eastern (Greek) emperors in Constantinople (Byzantium), although it was not until AD 962 that the enduring title of Holy Roman Emperor was bestowed on the German kings. When Charlemagne died he was buried at Aachen, at the western edge of Germany near the border with Belgium.
This book is about how he was remembered and his image reinvented after his death. Legends and stories projected him as a model Christian military leader and archetype crusader leading, four centuries later, to his canonisation as a saint and the adoption of his cult by the French king, Charles V (1338–1380) in the second half of the fourteenth century.
Significantly the story of one of his companions, Roland, was also altered by legend. In life the knight had been killed during a skirmish at Roncesvalles (Fr. Roncevaux ) Pass in AD 778 when Charlemagne’s army was attacked by Basques as it crossed the Pyrenees on its retreat from Spain. Three hundred years later his valour was lauded in a poem known as La Chanson de Roland , ‘the song of Roland’, which transformed him into a nephew of Charlemagne, had him battle Saracens rather than Christian Basques, break his sword ‘Durendal’ rather than let it fall into the hands of infidels, die blowing his horn the Olifant (made from an Elephant tusk) as he summoned help, and have his death avenged in a entirely fictitious account of Charlemagne returning to Spain, slaying his enemies and converting the Muslims to Christ.
One final point about Charlemagne and Roland needs stressing. The former’s sainthood was not without disparagers. He was widely believed to have committed incest with his sister(s) and his reputation was further sullied by his refusal to allow any of his daughters to marry. One fanciful tale speculated that Roland was his ‘son’ as well as his nephew!
Elizabeth Carson Pastan is a leading member of the CVMA (US) and the author of numerous books and articles about stained glass. Her contribution to this collection of essays looks at the thirteenth-century ‘Charlemagne’ window in Chartres cathedral, its content, context and purpose. Entitled ‘Charlemagne as Saint: Relics and the Choice of Window Subjects at Chartres Cathedral’, the chapter appears between pages 97 and 135 and is the only essay in the book with illustrations.
Made around 1210, the 30-feet high ‘Charlemagne’ window occupies a special place in the north choir ambulatory of the cathedral where it can be seen easily from a number of vantage points. It is surrounded by other windows depicting apostles, church fathers and martyrs and forms a diptych with another telling the life of St James the Great, who, apart from being the patron saint of Spain, is said to have decided that Charlemagne’s good deeds outweighed his sins. Unlike other windows in this area which adhere to a standard format, depicting the good deeds of saints, followed by their martyrdom and reception into heaven, the Charlemagne window seems disjointed, even confused, less a coherent narrative than what the author calls,‘ a collection of recognisable stories’ with episodes from the ‘Song of Roland’ incorporated to give it extra immediacy and appeal to audiences familiar with the secular narrative. Significantly, while the other saints were remembered in the Chartres liturgy, Charlemagne was not. The lower six scenes depict the king on a fictional crusade in the East and purportedly receiving gifts of sacred relics from the Byzantium emperor including a garment worn by the Virgin Mary during pregnancy and labour, particularly precious as it had touched both her and Christ: the Sancta Camisa. The cycle begins with a scene in which an angel tells the dreaming emperor Constantine of Constantinople that Charlemagne (depicted with visor down and a red shield) will liberate Jerusalem and is followed by others showing Charlemagne receiving the gifts and presenting the relics to the church. [Figs. 1 and 2]
The upper fourteen panels depict the Spanish ‘crusade’ and include scenes of Roland clashing with Saracens and the hero blowing his horn and breaking his sword (which included relics of the Virgin Mary in his handle). [Fig. 3]
A third subject appears in the apex of the window: the miraculous Mass of St Gilles during which God forgave Charlemagne his sins on condition that he repented and arranged for his sister to marry one of his knights.
Previous scholars have speculated about the purposes of the window: one linking it to the donors shown at its foot – the furriers – and concluding that the subject was chosen by them because of Charlemagne’s prowess as a hunter. Another view is that the window represented highly sophisticated allegories on the Passion of Christ; a third that it was essentially political, an attempt by the French king, Philip II Augustus (1165–1223) to wrest Carolingian lineage away from the German emperors. This author argues for a different approach noting the window’s relevance to contemporary crusades – akin to images of Charlemagne in the earlier ‘Crusades window’ in the royal abbey of St-Denis, (north of Paris) – but suggesting that its overriding purpose was to provide an historical genealogy, a certificate of authentication ( if false) for the Sancta Camisa , the cathedral’s most sacred relic, given to Chartres by Charlemagne’s grandson, Charles the Bald, in AD 876 and probably acquired by him from a Syrian source.
Other chapters in the book include contributions by Thomas Noble and Paul Edward Dutton showing how Charlemagne’s reputation soared after a book of his life was written around AD 828 or AD 829 – the Vita Karoli – and the failure of his son and heir, Louis the Pious, to enjoy similar military success; essays by Daniel Callahan and Jay Rubenstein exploring how Charlemagne legends were woven into the Holy Land crusades and a study by Jace Stuckey of how were they applied to Spanish crusades of which the Chanson de Roland can be seen as a sort of prototype. The final essay by Anne Latowsky examines the myth that Charlemagne travelled to Jerusalem and Constantinople and discusses two of the texts that told these stories.
For images of the whole window with a description of the scenes see Stuart Whatling’s medievalart.org.uk website
Name that Roundel Solution!
The suggested answer to this month’s puzzle is that the roundel shows a scene from the story of Tobit, a Jewish book of the pre-Reformation Latin Vulgate Bible which was amended and consigned to the Apocrypha section of later protestant versions.
Scenes from the story were often painted by stained glass artists during the sixteenth century, hence the longer than usual length of this month’s explanation. Among the subject’s appealing characteristics to medieval audiences was the emphasis it places on the Seventh Act of Mercy, burying the dead. In the twelfth century this virtue had been added to the Six Acts described by Christ (Matthew 25: 35–36) and thereafter was routinely represented in images of the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy, as at Combs (Suffolk). Other aspects of the story stressing the value of prayer, divine providence in adversity, the sanctity of marriage and the love and duties between fathers and sons meant that it could also resonate with multiple audiences at different times in different ways.
The story begins with Tobit, a pious Israelite, whose tribe had been deported to Nineveh. Remembering God with all his heart he gave alms to the poor, fed the hungry, clothed the naked and buried the dead (Tobit 1: 16–17). When the Assyrian authorities discovered his activities, his possessions were seized and he was forced to leave the city. Returning to Nineveh after king Sennacherib’s death, he buried a dead man who had been murdered on the street. That night, he slept in the open and was blinded by warm bird dung that fell into his eyes. The loss of his sight put terrible strains on his marriage to Anna, and ultimately, he prayed for death. Tobit exemplifies an ordinary but good man who suffers despite his righteousness. Even so, he refuses to blame God for his affliction.
Meanwhile, in the town of Ecbatane in Media (Medes) an area of Mesopotamia now in north-west Iran, a devout young woman named Sarah was also on the verge of despair. She had lost seven husbands to the Persian demon, Asmodeus, who had strangled them on their wedding night before the marriage could be consummated. In her anguish, she too, like Tobit, prayed to God for death.
Hearing their respective prayers, God sent the archangel Raphael (whose name means ‘God has healed’), disguised as a human, to heal Tobit and to free Sarah from the demon.[Fig. 1]
When Tobit sent his son Tobias to Media to collect a debt, Raphael appeared claiming to be Tobit’s kinsman, Azariah, and offering to go with him on the journey.
Along the way, Tobias stopped to wash his feet in the river Tigris whereupon a monstrous fish emerged from the depths to devour him. Raphael instructed Tobias to draw the fish out the water by its gills and then to remove its heart, livers and gall bladder to make medicines.
Upon arriving in Ecbatane, Raphael told Tobias of the beautiful Sarah, whom Tobias had the right to marry, because she was related to his tribe. He instructed the young man to burn the fish’s liver and heart to thwart Asmodeus when the demon attacked him on his wedding night.
After the young couple were married Tobias prayed that they grow old together. When they retired to bed they burnt the organs of the fish and the fumes drove the demon away to Upper Egypt, where Raphael captured and bound him. Meanwhile, Sarah’s father, Raguel, had been digging a grave to secretly bury Tobias (who he assumed was dead). Surprised to find his son-in-law alive and well, he ordered a double-length wedding feast and had the grave secretly filled. Since he could not leave the feast, Tobias sent Raphael to recover his father’s money.
After the feast, Tobias and Sarah returned to Nineveh. There, Raphael told him to use the fish’s gall to cure his father’s blindness. Raphael then revealed his true identity and returned to heaven. [Fig. 2]
The story ends with Tobit singing a hymn of praise and telling his son to leave Nineveh before God destroys it according to prophecy. After the prayer, Tobit dies whereupon Tobias buries his father and returns to Media with his family.
This month’s roundel puzzle shows Tobit with his eyes closed and his hands clasped in prayer. The broken column probably alludes to his impoverished life and the despair he feels. In a famous painting by Rembrandt, for example, Tobit lives in a tumble-down house with a collapsing roof. The upper left scene shows Sarah also praying fervently to God. Hearing their stories God sends the archangel Raphael to save them.