Medieval Stained Glass in Suffolk Churches
Medieval Stained Glass in Suffolk Churches by Rod. E.L. O’Donoghue, Foreword by the Right Reverend Nigel Stock, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, large softback (8.5 x 11), 279 pages, approx 250 colour illustrations, AuthorHouse UK, 2009. Available from the publishers: $35.70 (about £25) plus pp or at higher prices via Amazon and other retailers.
On the eve of the Reformation Suffolk was one of the richest and most industrialised counties of England with a prosperous economy based on cloth manufacture, fishing, dairying and tanning. During its so-called ‘Golden Age’ from 1400 onwards, numerous churches were rebuilt and lavishly furnished. In 1933 the stained glass historian, Christopher Woodforde, drew attention to at least 150 churches in the county with surviving remnants of pre-1700 stained glass, including examples with imported panels (see ‘Further Notes on Ancient Glass in Norfolk and Suffolk’, BSMGP Journal, Vol. V, No 2 1933, pp. 57–68).
This book is the first to be wholly devoted to the medieval stained glass of Suffolk. It focuses on the treasures in twenty of the county’s churches including English work at Combs, Hessett and Long Melford, and continental glass now installed at Nowton, Depden, Herringfleet and to a lesser extent, Saxmundham and St Edmundsbury Cathedral (Bury St Edmunds). A complete list of the 20 churches discussed by the author can be found at the foot of this review. [Figs. 1 and 2]
The format of the book consists of separate entries for each church followed by some helpful appendices covering heraldic terms; saints and their symbols; a glossary of stained glass terms; maps, and more. Useful indices complete the text. The photographs are of mixed quality.
With exclamation marks on every page, the text bubbles with enthusiasm and a chatty style which reminds this reviewer of a knowledgeable tour guide taking a party of visitors around a church. The Book’s sub-title, ‘Let the stained glass speak’, aptly sums up the author’s approach. Typical entries prompt the reader into asking questions about what they can see, and then uses evidence such as artistic attributes and inscriptions to discover and explain the iconography of the images. The author is not trying to be a professional scholar, he is not aiming to catalogue every pre-1700 window in Suffolk, and nor is he attempting to assign windows to particular workshops, such as those that seem to have flourished in the county towns of Bury and Ipswich. Rather, he wants more people to share his love for early stained glass and, as we will see shortly, he has done more than most to make that happen, even if his enthusiasm can sometimes stray too far. Thus the two ‘circles’ on the upper forehead of a donor image at St Mary’s church, Bardwell, which he interprets as spectacles are, on closer inspection, revealed to be part of a larger design (with the extra roundels largely obscured by lead repairs) depicting a narrow circlet of velvet or silver/gilt metal, known as an ‘orle’ or chaplet, which was typically worn by knights of the period over their helmets. [Fig. 3]
Earlier I mentioned the author’s enthusiasm for his subject. To the best of my knowledge this is the first book to have been reviewed in Vidimus which has been produced by a single author using the services of one of the newly-mushrooming online ‘self publishing’ companies such as Blurb, Lulu and, in this case, the AuthorHouse. Typically such companies will either print/publish an author’s own designed and proof-read copy and then offer it for sale from their websites for a fixed fee per book, or go several steps further and offer a complete design and proof-reading service in addition to printing and marketing skills. Costs vary accordingly.
A few years ago anyone tempted to use one of these outlets ran the risk of being accused of ‘vanity publishing’, but attitudes are changing rapidly. Looking ahead, I suspect that there are lots of people who are interested in stained glass, who own digital cameras, who can afford desk top publishing software and who might be as passionate about publishing their own books as this author has proved to be. I would not be at all surprised if we saw more titles hitting the web over the next few years including more county studies like this volume on Suffolk, academic dissertations, and particular thematic studies of stained glass such as depictions of individual saints, bird quarries and much more.
Inevitably some will be good and others awful. Readers will have to judge titles on their merits as they appear, in part because the current economics of mainstream publishing mean that some books which deserve to appear will only do so via the self-publishing route. Titles aimed at niche markets or aimed at highly-specialised audiences, are becoming less attractive to many traditional general publishers, who can see large amounts of their ever decreasing resources tied up in marketing or advertising to a small and select market. In such cases self-publishing may be the only common sense route for some types of publication. Two recent volumes on Devon churches by c b newham, published to a very high standard by the on-line company Blurb, spring to mind as a case in point.
Of course, there are bound to be problems. Not every online company is as good as it claims to be. Pricing and distribution can be horrendous. At present every company effectively charges authors the equivalent of point-of-sale retail prices for the books they publish. Thus while a mainstream publisher might sell a book which cost £6 to print, for £40, using the difference to cover royalties, design costs, marketing, discounts to retailers, and so on, authors travelling the self-publishing route will find themselves paying £40 per book for the same publication before costs, royalties, retail commissions etc., are added, making final retail prices of £60 or £80 self-defeatingly prohibitive.
While some discounts are available for bulk printing, ordering large numbers of copies to achieve lower costs risks running into a second problem – how to sell and distribute titles nationwide without a dedicated team of agents, advertising budgets, and so on. For most would-be authors stories of stacks of unsold books mouldering in garages is the stuff of Stephen King nightmares and they will have become exceptionally fast-learning, web-savvy marketing experts if they are going to stand any chance of success.
However, despite having to jump more fences than at Aintree on Grand National Day, the opportunities provided by new technologies and ideas are likely to prove irresistible. Competition may drive prices down. Already groups of enthusiasts are pre-ordering books to fund limited editions of titles of interest to them. Digital publishing could easily be adopted by university departments. The author of this book had the courage and determination to make his dream happen. Others will almost certainly follow.
The twenty churches singled out by the author are at: Bardwell; Bury St Edmunds (St Edmundsbury Cathedral); Chilton; Combs; Depden; Drinkstone; Gipping; Great Bricett, Hawkendon; Herringfleet; Hessett; Icklingham; Long Melford; Norton; Nowton; Pettistree; Preston St Mary; Saxmundham; Wilby; Yaxley.
The Journal of Stained Glass
The Journal of Stained Glass, Volume XXXIII, 2009. Edited by Sandra Coley; 191 pages. Copies cost £22.50 (incl p+p) in the UK; £24.50 (incl p+p) elsewhere in the EU; £28.50 (incl p+p) rest of the world, including the USA.
The Journal of Stained Glass, produced annually by the British Society of Master Glass Painters since 1924, is properly catholic in its scope, reflecting the broad interests of its readership and exploring every aspect of historic and contemporary glass-making. Articles are usefully arranged in sections entitled History, Research and Methodology, Contemporary Practice and Technical Enquiry. There is also a wide-ranging reviews section and a report on the sale of glass at auction, which in this issue includes well-illustrated accounts of the fascinating collections of Roger Warner and Barbara Piasecka Johnson.
Although the entire issue has much to commend it, including a meditative guest editorial by the painter Richard Lannoy on medieval glass, Vidimus readers may be particularly interested in its History section. Its five essays are admirably coherent, together demonstrating how many post-medieval developments in stained glass design stem from the revival and reinterpretation of earlier traditions. Karla Whitmore, discussing Donald Taunton’s work as a designer for Hardman & Co. between 1935 and 1964, notes the importance he assigned to the production of antique glass which emulated that of the 13th and 14th centuries. As Geoffrey Lane shows, in his excellent piece on late 17th-century glass-painters, the quest to recreate the pot-metal colours of the Middle Ages began as least as early as the 1670s, according to Robert Hooke’s diaries. The issue was debated by the Royal Society in 1682 and in 1700 William Price was advertising that he could make ‘Red and all other Colours as made … in former Ages’. His window for Merton College, produced in 1702 for the east end of the chapel and now in the north transept, includes pot metal colours. Technical innovation accompanied the post-Restoration revival in glass-painting, stimulated by the popularity of complex armorial schemes, particularly favoured by the Inns of Court and the City churches, and large-scale figurative windows, increasingly commissioned by the Oxford colleges. Despite the importance of the Oxford client base, significant numbers of England’s glass-painters lived and worked in Holborn, as they had since the 1620s. Lane’s article is a highly satisfying follow-up to his important 2005 article in the same journal on London glass-painting in the first half of the 17th century. Read them both for a well-researched account of this under-studied and important chapter in the history of glass-painting.
One hundred years after William Price demonstrated his familiarity with ancient techniques at Merton, another London glass-painter, Joseph Hale Miller, was developing his expertise in the repair and setting of ancient glass, much of it imported from the continent. Miller (1777–1842) has been credited – by William Warrington among others – with an important role in the 19th-century revival of medieval glass-painting styles and techniques, not least because his work inspired an interest in the young Charles Winston. Michael Kerney’s fascinating essay, which provides the most thorough account of Miller’s output to date, also explores the extent to which his experience of resetting medieval and 16th-century glass – including the exceptionally important collection at Ashridge Park (some of which is now on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum) – furnished Miller with an understanding of ‘the ancient modes of glazing’ and an ability to reproduce earlier styles and designs. Kerney also demonstrates the importance of Miller’s association with the antiquarian dealer William Stevenson, for whom he restored and reset many panels.
The linked role of dealers and restorers in the dispersal and presentation of historic glass, also discussed in this issue’s Panel of the Month, is borne out in Penny Hebgin-Barnes’ article about glass in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, the majority of which was assembled by the eminent Liverpool antiquarian and dealer Philip Nelson. As part of her CVMA survey of glass in Lancashire, Hebgin-Barnes has catalogued this virtually inaccessible and unpublished collection, effectively bringing it to public view for the first time. For the Journal she picks out some of the most interesting pieces, including an extraordinary 16th-century series depicting Hell’s torments, reminiscent of the work of Hieronymous Bosch. She also explores the impact, on the collection’s content and appearance, of Philip Nelson’s working relationships with Wilfred Drake and Samuel Caldwell, both of whom were accomplished simulators of the effects of old glass. Drake, who created some remarkably convincing ’14th-century’ Tree of Jesse panels for Nelson, may have been involved in supplying the Royal Clarence Hotel, Exeter with continental glass, as discussed in David Cook’s essay. His successful partnership with the dealer Grosvenor Thomas was one of the principal conduits by which medieval glass entered 20th-century museum collections, thereby determining a great deal of what we – the visiting public – see. Caldwell, whose restorations at Canterbury Cathedral and Merton College remain indiscernible to all but the most expert eye, has made as significant a contribution to the way in which we perceive medieval stained glass.
The Journal of Stained Glass should be read by all those with an interest in the history of stained glass. Although produced by the British Society of Master Glass Painters, it is available for purchase by non-members.
The Journal of Stained Glass is available for purchase from the BSMGP website.
Photographs of the Nelson Collection, held by the Walker Art Gallery, can be found on the CVMA website.
Geoffrey Lane, ‘A world turned upside down: London glass painters 1600–1660′, Journal of Stained Glass, XXIX, 2005
From Martyr to Monument: The Abbey of Cluny as Cultural Patrimony
From Martyr to Monument: The Abbey of Cluny as Cultural Patrimony by Janet T. Marquardt, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle, 2008, softback binding, 286 pages, 99 b/w illustrations, price £14.99
The Benedictine abbey at Cluny near Macon in central Burgundy (Saône-et-Loire), France, was one of the great wonders of the Romanesque world. Founded in AD 910 by William I of Aquitaine, it was dramatically expanded in the 11th century after the Spanish king Alphonso VI began channelling vast sums to the church and its charismatic abbot, Hugh of Semur (1024–1109). By the time of the death of its last great abbot, Peter the Venerable in 1153, Cluny was the largest and most sumptuous monastic church in western Europe, answerable only to the Holy See in Rome and spawning its own Cluniac order of monks. Indeed its extravagance and excess so enraged the austere (St) Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) that he famously denounced the ‘ridiculous monstrosity’ of its carved capitals and lambasted the abbey’s penchant for ‘costly polishings and curious paintings’ as distractions which would inevitably ‘catch the worshipper’s eye and dry up his devotion’.
Unfortunately, extremely little is known about the glazing of this remarkable complex. Apart from a few fragments of coloured unpainted glass excavated in 1928, nothing else from either the Romanesque period nor the abbey’s later gothic chapels have been found. Perhaps the closest to what might have been at Cluny at the time of Peter the Venerable are three medallions of c. 1160–70 now in the village church of Le Champ-près-Froges in the Isère and which are thought to have come from the important, but now ruined, nearby Cluniac priory of Domène. The recent cleaning of a wall painting in the south transept at Cluny in a chapel dedicated to St Gabrielle might also be relevant. Dated to around c. 1115, the painting shows a fictive window with possibly clear glass leaded in a diamond pattern. [Fig. 1]
Only parts of the abbey now survive. Dissolved as a religious establishment during the French revolution its buildings were subsequently ruthlessly demolished for their salvage value. Over the next thirty years most of the great basilica was dismantled. Only one transept arm with a large and small tower, together with a few later buildings, remains.
This softback edition of an interesting book, first published in 2007, is about the decline of the abbey in the early 19th century and its subsequent rebirth as a symbol of French heritage and patrimony. It belongs to a growing genre of studies concerned with how post-medieval scholars and societies have responded to the medieval age, see Vidimus 34.
Among the many strengths of the book is the attention it devotes to the efforts of the American architect and archaeologist Kenneth John Conant (1894–1984) whose full-scale reconstructive drawings have done so much to remind us of what has been lost.
One can only hope that in time the same may be said of its glazing.
For more information about the windows at Le Champ-près-Froges, see:
- C. Brissac, ‘The Romanesque Window at Le Champ-près-Froges’, Journal of Glass Studies, 1984, 26, pp. 70–76
- L. Grodecki, Le Vitrail Roman, 1983 (several references)
A Stained Glass Bible
A Stained Glass Bible by Martin Davis. Published by Free Range Photography Publications, Cheltenham, 2010, 7×7 inches (18×18 centimeters) 75 pages, prices vary according to binding with the softback edition costing £11.05 plus postage and packing, available from Blurb.
Written as an introduction to the Bible for a new member of the author’s family, this small book consists of thirty-five selected passages from the New Jerusalem Bible together with accompanying full-page facing illustrations of stained glass. It begins with the creation of Adam and Eve and ends with the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus. The illustrations are drawn from a number of different locations and range from the 14th century to the modern day. All the photographs were taken by the author.
Although the idea behind this book has been extensively covered by others, most notably in different ways by the well-known stained glass photographers Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday, this publication is still an attractive addition to the literature. [Fig 1]
As with Medieval Stained Glass in Suffolk Churches (also reviewed in this issue), this is also a self-published book. The author has supplied the text and photographs. He has used layout designs provided by the on-line publishers, Blurb. For Vidimus readers familiar with some of the stained glass chosen by the author, e.g. Fairford, Ludlow, and Gloucester Cathedral, its primary importance lies not in its content, but in its example. It shows what can be achieved.
Name that Roundel Solution!
Dr Paul Taylor of London’s Warburg Institute writes:
Identifying the subjects depicted in some roundels can be extremely difficult. Opinion is often divided: sometimes everyone is stumped! One suggestion is that this month’s roundel shows the Old Testament figures of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba with secondary figures worshipping an idol. I disagree. The stories are quite different. Solomon was the son of King David and Bathsheba. After he succeeded his father, he ruled with wisdom and built a great temple to God. The Queen of Sheba visited him and gave gifts to the temple. (I Kings 10:10) Later in his life some of Solomon’s wives ‘turned his heart’ towards pagan idolatry (I Kings 11:4) and God punished his sins by tearing the kingdom apart. The facts of this story do not fit the roundel! The visit of the Queen of Sheba predates Solomon’s adoption of idolatry and scenes of the latter always include his culpable wives. Instead I believe that this month’s puzzle shows a scene from the Life of St Katherine (or Catherine) of Alexandria, one of the most popular late medieval female virgin martyr saints.
The story of St Katherine is told in full in the Legenda Aurea, (The Golden Legend), an anthology of saints’ lives compiled around 1260 by Jacobus de Voragine, the Bishop of Genoa – see Further Reading.
According to the story Katherine was a devour Christian and the daughter of a king. When the Roman emperor, Maxentius, visited her home city of Alexandria he ordered everyone to offer sacrifices to his idols on pain of punishment if they refused. After learning of this decree Katherine armed herself with the sign of the cross and hurried to the emperor’s palace where she challenged him to renounce the worship of false gods. The roundel shows her disputing with the emperor as others worship an idol. [Fig 1]
The story of what happened next is often depicted in medieval art. Unable to refute her scholarly arguments and match her rhetorical skills Maxentius summoned fifty of his leading philosophers to prove her wrong. But his plans went horribly awry. The subsequent debate saw his experts routed by Katherine’s superior intellectual prowess and convert en masse to Christianity. A furious Maxentius ordered them to be killed. Thereafter he turned his ferocity on Katherine, ordering her to be stripped and beaten, imprisoned without food for twelve days and finally tied to a device with four wheels and iron saws which would simultaneously crush and tear her to pieces (the Katherine Wheel). However, before it could be used, the device was miraculously destroyed by an angel and Catherine was unharmed. When the courageous young woman then refused Maxentius’ offer to repent her beliefs and marry him, she was beheaded. Milk rather than blood flowed from her severed neck. Angels then carried her body to Mount Sinai where a monastery was dedicated to God in her name.
Four scenes from a probable twelve telling the story of St Katherine’s martyrdom can be seen in the east window of the north aisle in the parish church of St Mary and St Clement at Clavering in Essex. The glass dates from the first half of the 15th century. [Fig. 2]
- J. Voragine, The Golden Legend. An online translation can be read on the Medieval Sourcebook website.
K. J. Lewis, The Cult of St Katherine of Alexandria in Late Medieval England, Woodbridge, 2000