This month we are delighted to publish two important features by first-time contributors to Vidimus.
Glazing the Sagrada Família: Exclusive Interview With Joan Vila Grau
By Margaret Martlew (University of Sheffield)
The Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Família in the Spanish city of Barcelona is one of the most iconic buildings in the world. Designed by the brilliant Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926) only a small proportion of the church had been completed at the time of his death. However, sufficient material, retrieved from maquettes and various written sources, has enabled work to continue following his guidelines and later this year the building will be formally consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI. [Fig. 1]
Gaudí envisaged three types of windows in the church, ranging from Gothic Revival to his own unique interpretations. In 1999 the Catalan stained glass artist, Joan Vila Grau, was commissioned to design all the windows for the temple. Before embarking on his designs, he studied intensively everything that Gaudí and the architects who collaborated with him had written about the church and their art.
Joan Vila Grau (1932–) [Fig. 2] has designed stained glass windows for more than fifty buildings; ecclesiastical, public and private. He has also restored medieval stained glass windows in major cathedrals and churches such as the Cathedrals of Gerona and Mallorca and the church of Santa Maria del Marin Barcelona. He is a co-author of four volumes on the medieval glass of Catalonia for the CVMA (Spain) (see Further Reading at the foot of this article). He has recently been awarded the Creu de St Jordi (The Cross of St George), one of Catalonia’s highest national honours.
To coincide with an exhibition about the stained glass in the Sagrada Família, due to open in a few weeks time, we are delighted to publish Margaret Martlew’s exclusive interview with Joan Vila Grau about his work for the church. It provides fascinating insights into the work of a major stained glass artist as he tackles one of the most important commissions in the new century.
MM (Margaret Martlew): The Sagrada Família is considered by many to be Antoni Gaudí’s finest achievement. His architectural plans are guiding the completion of the building. Did he have explicit ideas for the stained glass windows?
JVG (Joan Vila Grau): Yes, Gaudí did have some ideas for the windows that I felt I had to respect while at the same time endeavouring to create my own work. For instance, when an artist is commissioned to paint a portrait, he has to create a work of art while also accepting certain conditions. But freedom is very important and you have to try to be free within these constraints. The conditions that are laid down can present you with a challenge and if the conditions are reasonable then you can be free to work within these. If the conditions are absurd or excessive it is best not to have anything to do with the project.
Sometimes it is easy to follow Gaudí’s ideas. For example, the theme for the blue window on the north façade, ‘I am the Water of Life’. This idea appealed to me and I developed it by imagining a stream that begins in a mountain and slowly life is created as it flows down into the river. At the top of the window there is only blue glass but coming down, gradually other colours appear – yellow, green, red. These are suggesting the plants and herbs that can be found as the stream flows into the river. The colours at the bottom of the window are also related to the colours on the other side of the transept, on the south façade.
Between these two large windows is the Resurrection window. In this window I developed the idea of death and life, with death as the earth and life as a seed. Therefore the colours in the lower windows are dense colours, dark, and slowly these become more translucent as they go up until they reach the ellipsoid at the top. Here the colour almost disappears and the windows are composed of different textures of white glass that vibrate the light and give an explosion of luminosity. For me, this represents the triumph of life over death. [Fig. 3]
MM:Was light important for Gaudí?
JVG: Yes, here I took account of another idea of Gaudí’s that was not contrary to the vision I had. This is that the windows at the top of the temple should be in white glass in order to give the maximum amount of light while the lower windows should be darker. Gaudí wanted light to illuminate the vaults. Normally the practice is to have dense colours in the highest windows and less dense colours in the lower ones because this gives an even illumination over the whole window. But Gaudí wanted exactly the opposite.
The light is constantly changing. Gaudí said that the sun is the best painter and that light from the windows flows over the stones like a stream. I am sure that Gaudí was referring to the colour that would be projected by the light onto the columns and the interior of the temple. When I was beginning to think about the harmonic light in the temple and the great symphony of colour and light I discovered another comment of Gaudí’s in which he envisaged the Sagrada Família as a temple of harmonic light. This was exactly the idea I had. As in my paintings, themes are only a small aspect of the work. In the Sagrada Família, what is important to me is creating a symphony of light and colour. A unity is formed by the symphony of colour of all the windows of the Sagrada Família. [Fig. 4]
MM: What processes are involved in making the glass?
JVG: The design of the window begins in my studio after I have examined the light, orientation and measurements of the windows. I work in water colours and draw the lines for the lead onto this. From these small projects I use the scaling that is normally used by architects and glassmakers.
Once the design of the window is finished and the colours have been selected, the glassmaker can begin to cut the glass. Creating stained glass windows is both an art and a craft. Choosing the colours is very important to me. We have allowed for instance, 70 or more blues, 70 or more greens, etc. and these are all numbered. As well as the coloured glass there are also glasses of different textures. I can envisage this move from the design to the window itself as being like a translation, as when you translate a book from English to another language. It really is a translation because the fluidity of the colours in the watercolour design is not possible in the glass. It would be possible with enamel but Gaudí did not like enamel. The designer collects the different colours and separates them with the lead. It is not the same as the original watercolour design but it is a valid version in its own right. You make a translation. In all these production processes I rely on the collaboration of Antoni Vila, my son. He has also, through careful study, created a system for framing and positioning the windows. [Fig. 5]
MM: What role does the lead play in the windows?
JVG: The lead in the windows has two different functions. One is the material one of physically keeping one piece of glass in place with another, and it makes a network. The other is, in my opinion, the aesthetic function of the lead. The lead creates a rhythm. For me the colour is the static element and the lead the dynamic. The lead also makes it possible for me to bring in the different colours that I have in the design. For instance, if in the design I have a blue that becomes clearer then I need to put in place two or three or more different pieces of blue glass to bring out this change of tone. In this way the lead allows me to interpret the project and it is especially important in creating a dynamic feeling. It is easy to see this in the windows at the top of the Sagrada Família that only have white glass in them, as Gaudí wanted.
I have not used crowns (bottle glass) in the white glass because the crown would cut across the rhythm and in the white glass it is the rhythm that is especially important. [Fig.6]
MM: Gaudí’s architecture is rich in iconography. Does this extend to the windows?
JVG: There is a kind of iconography in the Nativity window but it is just an anecdote, aesthetically it is not important. I used crowns because they catch the light to represent what the constellations were on 25 December in the year 0, which were the Bear and Cassiopeia. The form of Cassiopeia is that of the anagram of my father’s name AA (Antoní Vila Arrufat). But these are small things.
When beginning the commission I reached an agreement that the windows would not be figurative. As part of the commission however I agreed to write the names of saints in the roundels. The saints’ names were to have run round and down the columns but as they are not on the columns it was suggested that the names should be on the windows. I do not feel it is all that important. [Fig. 7]
There are probably some who expect the windows to follow the tradition of figurative iconography. For me it was necessary to create an atmosphere, a grand symphony of colour and light. When you go into a Gothic church, a cathedral or a monastery, the first thing you feel is the atmosphere. After that you are aware that there are windows of different colours and thematic representations. But what is important, before everything else, is the atmosphere that is created by the colours – and if the windows have a theme – well why not? But it is not necessary. In the windows of the Sagrada Família there is no figurative iconography but an atmosphere has been created.
MM: Why is the atmosphere so important to you?
JVG: Well I think that in creating an atmosphere you can give the feeling that you are in a place that is different from any other place. I don’t like the word magic but it is something magical – mystical or magical – perhaps these are almost the same. The intuitions of the artist and the intuitions of the spectator can create a feeling of magic or mysticism.
A French reporter once asked me if I was a Christian or not. I said ‘Yes, I can say yes, I am a Christian, and on the other hand I can say I am not’. It depends on what you think it means to be Christian. It is not important if the Sagrada Família and the windows are Catholic or not. There is something there inside and I try to take it to another level. It is at that level that to me, in the Sagrada Família, a Buddhist, a non-Catholic or non-believer can feel that he is inside something spiritual.
The spirituality of Gaudí is more in the rhythm of the colours and the architecture than in the iconography. Gaudí’s iconography is an anachronism. The religious sensibility of Gaudí in the field of iconography is the sensibility of that epoch. But Gaudí is more than that epoch. For me a column of Gaudí’s is more spiritual than putting ‘Gloria en Excelsis Deo’ on it. I believe that any sensitive person can understand this spirituality. People can find in the Sagrada Família something that they can find in their own temples and churches. There are other buildings in the world where you can find this spirituality, for example, the Mosque at Cordoba. You can enter into another space, beyond the temple. This spirituality is there in the Colegio de Teresianas, which Gaudí built. There is a corridor where there are no Ave Marias, no Jesus Christs, nothing, only mosaics and yet there is something spiritual, magical there, whatever you wish to call it. This is Gaudí. This is the greatness of Gaudí for me. And so is the Sagrada Família.
MM: Not everyone agrees with the continuing construction of the Sagrada Família, What is your opinion on this?
JVG: The people who disagree with the continuation of the building of the Sagrada Família seem to me to be badly informed or to have very little sensibility. I believe that the spirit of Gaudí is in his architecture and that includes this building. Gaudí said ‘I know I cannot finish this temple and other people will continue my work enriching it with their feeling and with their personal approach.’ Until I read this sentence, I had wondered whether it would perhaps be better not to finish the Sagrada Família. This sentence is the passport to continuing. After all, what was the Sagrada Família at the end of Gaudí’s life? It was only a ruin but now it is something incredible. Religious and spiritual factors apart, the Sagrada Família is a very important cultural and artistic work. The columns and arches in the Sagrada Família that have been constructed following Gaudí’s projections, his maquettes and his mathematical calculations, these columns and arches are Gaudí’s even though he did not make them. The spirit of Gaudí is instilled into his architecture.
Following on from this I think that Gaudí not only accepted that the personality of the architects and artists who would continue his work would be different, he also accepted that other materials would be used if they were better than the old ones. The spirit of a cathedral changes with the centuries. The people working on the Sagrada Família look on it as something living and when something is living it must be subject to change.
MM: What major problems have you encountered in making the windows?
JVG: The problem that I am aware of in designing each window is the danger of monotony. Becoming monotonous is my major preoccupation. It is not just mine. It is, for instance, the preoccupation of a sculptor who has to work slowly on a big façade. There is a human tendency to fall into using the same solution. There is a danger of repeating without being aware that you are repeating. This is what you have to be aware of when trying to work on the scale of the whole composition for the windows, thinking about the harmony and the symphony of colour but at the same time ensuring that every window is different in the use of colour, the rhythm of the lead, the total resolution.
MM: How did you feel when your first window was installed?
JVG: It was a very emotional moment for me when the Resurrection window was installed. The size of the windows is so great. There is always something of a surprise when the windows are put into place. I have studied the situation and weighed up the problems but there are always some aspects that cannot be completely controlled. Some windows of course are better seen in a certain light. For example a window on the south façade will have the sun beginning in the east and moving round and in these I use a greater percentage of warm colours.
At this moment there are several windows in place. I have a complete conceptualisation of the windows worked out, some windows are already completed but not installed, and some are in part projects. It is expected that the church will be finished in twenty years but the windows could be finished in five.
- Vila Grau, J. and Rodon F., Las Vidrieras Modernistas Catalanas, Barcelona: Ediciones Polígafa, S.A., 1983
- Vila Grau, J., Church of the Sagrada Família: the Stained Glass Windows, Barcelona: Editorial Mediterrània, 2006
Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi volumes
- Ainaud I de de Lasarte, J. A., Vila Grau, J., Assumpta Escudero i Ribot, M., Catalonia I: Els Vitralls medievals de l’Esglesia de Santa Maria del Mar a Barcelona, Barcelona, 1985
- Ainaud I de de Lasarte, J. A., Vila Grau, J., Assumpta Escudero i Ribot, M., Vila Delclos, A., Marquès, J., Roura, G., and Marquès, J. M., Catalonia II: Els Vitralls de la catedral de Girona, Barcelona, 1987
- Ainaud I de de Lasarte, J. A., Vila Grau, J., Vila Delclos, A., Catalonia III: Els Vitralls del monastir de Santes Creus i de la catedral de Tarragona, Barcelona, 1992
- Ainaud I de de Lasarte, J. A., Vila Grau, J., Vila Delclos, A., Catalonia IV: Els Vitralls de la catedral de Barcelona i del monastir de Pedralbes, Barcelona, 1997
Published by the Isitut d’Estudis Catalans, C. del Carme 47, 08001, Barcelona.
Cataloguing Flemish Roundels in Devon
by David Cook
Dr William Cole’s survey of northern continental roundels and unipartite panels in Britain for the CVMA, published in 1993, was an extraordinary achievement for one person (see Further Reading). From the outset, he acknowledged that it could not be complete, in fact he expected and hoped that further discoveries would be made, so it is no surprise that more panels continue to be found. This month BSMGP member, David Cook, takes a look at unpublished roundels in Devon.
William Cole listed only a single roundel in Devon. As part of a continuing research project I have subsequently discovered over sixty, more if fragments are included, in the county. This includes a major collection of 27 panels in the windows of the Royal Clarence Hotel in the cathedral close in Exeter (see my article in Journal of Stained Glass XXXIII, 2009) and others in churches and private collections. The work of recording is by no means complete. While those in churches are relatively accessible, more may be found in private collections, some of which could be significant.
Information is scarce about when these roundels were acquired and from whom. But for those collections assembled in the first part of the 20th century there must be a presumption in favour of the Exeter firm of Drake & Sons, who not only created new windows but also restored and supplied old glass. They almost certainly created the present arrangement of glass in the south window of the parish church of Our Lady at Upton Pyne, near Exeter, as Maurice Drake wrote an account of it in Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, a local journal. For many years the Drake firm occupied premises at 4, Cathedral Yard, Exeter, the business closing as late as 1957. Some of the 27 panels in the windows of the Clarence Hotel, at the other end of the north side of the close from the Drake premises, almost certainly came from this source as they were exhibited for sale in New York in 1913 as part of the Grosvenor Thomas collection. Maurice Drake was involved in writing the exhibition catalogue, and Wilfred Drake was later in partnership with Grosvenor Thomas, and with his son, Roy. Much of the glass now in American collections was supplied by Thomas & Drake, who dealt in London and New York.
The panels illustrated here are a selection from those in east Devon and the Exeter area, and north-west Devon. More from other parts of the county may find their way into Vidimus in due course.
Before cataloguing these roundels, it is necessary to record a correction about the only panel listed as being in Devon by Dr Cole. It appears on page 38 of his book and is assigned to the church of St Mary the Virgin, at Brushford, a settlement described as ‘just a farmstead’ in the revised edition of Pevsner’s Devon in the Buildings of England series. Brushford is about twelve miles north-west of Crediton. The panel is described but not illustrated and is said to depict St Martin dividing his cloak to share it with a beggar. However, there is no such panel at Brushford, and no likelihood that there ever was. The window in question, nII, is a narrow lancet, said to be Norman, and is filled with Victorian patterned glass obviously designed for this window. Other windows in the church have Victorian figural glass or plain quarries. Dr Cole presumably relied on information provided by someone else.
The possibility that there was some confusion with the parish church of St Nicholas at Brushford in Somerset, near Dulverton, and close to the border with Devon, is tempting but can be discounted. For while the latter church does contain a continental panel, it shows St George and the Dragon, not St Martin, and is in the chancel south window, sII and not nII: moreover, it is probably a 19th-century copy of a Dürer woodcut (and if so would have been ineligible for inclusion in Cole’s catalogue).
The interim hand-list below describes fragments only where they are figural. Place names in parenthesis indicate panels that have not yet been inspected, or viewed either on the CVMA website or from other photographs.
Ashcombe, St Nectan
Chancel E, I, three lights: 2 panels in side lights. Oval, Deposition with seven figures including Mary Magdalene and her pot of ointment, enamels, 17th century; Oval, Calvary with three crosses, Our Lady and St John, kneeling donor, enamels, 17th century. Both with original borders. [Figs. 1 and 2]
Buckfastleigh, (Buckfast Abbey)
In the cloister windows (presumably collected by Fr Charles Norris, a member of the community, a stained glass artist, and a contributor to JBSMGP).
Exeter, Livery Dole almshouse chapel
2 panels, both silver stain, late 16th century; one circular, unidentified; second circular, Faith(?) holding a chalice.
Exeter, Royal Clarence Hotel
24 panels and 3 fragments in south east and north east sides of ground floor windows, see the Journal of Stained Glass, XXXIII, 2009, 26–49.
Gittisham, St Michael
Chancel N, nII, two lights: 3 panels and 7 fragments. Left light, large fragment, Jacob blessing his sons, cup in foreground, enamels, 17th century; large fragment of back view of seated female figure at table, parts of four other figures show, enamels, 17th century; large fragment of armorial showing a crowned helmet and part of the mantling, silver stain; circular roundel, Lamentation, silver stain, late 16th century; right light, fragment with top two-thirds of female figure with veiled head, jug, enamels, 17th century; large oval fragment with scene of six men and two women, silver stain, 17th century; large fragment of six swine feeding at a trough, legs of two figures in background, silver stain, late 16th century or 17th century; large fragment of crown with blue jewels over double scroll, enamels, 17th century; circular panel, Entombment, silver stain, 17th century; circular panel, possibly cut down, armed man being bound from behind by bearded man with helmet, enamels, 17th century.
Haccombe, St Blaise
Chancel E, I, triple lancet, in central light: 2 panels and 3 fragments, one large. Small fragment of man in hat facing left with bird on left hand, Dutch, enamels, 17th century; small fragment, a winged cherub’s head; Oval, Baptism of Christ, enamels, inscription below, dated 1661; large rectangular fragment, St Paul, showing upper half of his body holding book and sword, silver stain, 17th century; rectangle, cut down, Carrying the Cross, silver stain, late 16th century or 17th century.
Nave south, sIV, lancet: 3 panels. Oval, St John with book and eagle, vision of virgin and child in sky, kneeling donor in mantle at right, silver stain, 16th century; octagon, presumably corners cut down, unidentified ; Oval, Christ and St Anthony(?) kneeling, Holy Spirit in form of a dove above, silver stain, 16th century.
Hartland, St Nectan
Three Flemish roundels in the S chancel chapel: one circular, Nativity, may be 19th century; another circular, St Anne (?) with a donor, mid 16th century, several breaks, one stop gap; third, no information.
Hartland (Hartland Abbey)
Private house, sometimes open to the public. Four continental panels at top of window that now replaces E front main door.
Hatherleigh, St John the Baptist
South aisle W, three lights, sVI: 3 panels, one at the base of each light. Left to right: oval, St Peter in a classical setting with cartouche with five gold roses (representing the five wounds?) and a cockerel, German, enamels, 17th century; oval, Crucifixion with BVM and St John, kneeling donors, silver stain, first half 16th century; oval, Annunciation with hausmark on shield between, inscription below, German, silver stain, dated 1653. [Figs. 3 and 4]
Lydford, St Petrock
Two roundels: one circular, St Mary Magdalene, first half 16th century or 19th century; second circular, St Catherine, first half 16th century.
Monkleigh, St George
South aisle, east, sII, four lights, in the tracery lights: 2 panels. Rectangle, two female figures in a landscape, stop gap at right, grisaille, 17th century; rectangle, Jonah and the whale, silver stain, 17th century or 18th century. In the head of the third light: 1 large fragment. Part of a tree, grisaille.
South aisle, south, sIV, three light, in the tracery lights: 1 panel. Oval, cut down at sides, figure in profile of a man with a stick in a blue cloak, stop gap top right, enamels, 17th century. In the head of the left light: 1 large fragment. Half of a circular panel with a rainbow, and below it a breaking globe(?) with a band around it, clouds to right, enamels, perhaps part of a larger panel of the Last Judgment. [Fig. 5]
Offwell, St Mary
North chapel, E, nI, five lights: 4 panels in the largest tracery lights. Left to right: oval, St John the Evangelist, enamels, 17th century; oval, the Road to Emmaus, sanguine, 17th century; oval, the Supper at Emmaus, sanguine, 17th century; oval, unidentified, possibly David called by Jesse, enamels, 17th century.
Chancel S, sII: small fragments, 3 with a face, 5 with drapery, others unrecognisable; those with face from left to right, woman’s head looking left with hat, hands clasped in prayer; man’s bearded head; kneeling male figure, bearded, with gown, hands touching and finger rings picked out in yellow stain, perhaps 17th century.
Torquay, Torre Abbey
Owned by Torbay Council. 3 oval panels, loose when photographed, leaded together into a trefoil; St Augustine enthroned with mitre and pastoral staff, scroll behind throne with inscription ‘sainct augusstin’ [sic], 16th or 17th century, the composition typical of the Leuven school; St Anthony with pig and St Giles with pastoral staff and hind, watermill in background, 16th century; sainted bishop or abbot with mitre and pastoral staff, holding own head, landscape with rocky outcrops, tree, walled town, 16th century. [Fig. 6 ]
Upton Pyne (Pynes)
Private house. Well staircase, landing window, some 17th-century German roundels. Flemish glass.
Upton Pyne, Our Lady
South aisle, south, sIV, three lights: 5 panels and 1 fragment. Left light, rectangle, cut down, St James the Less, silver stain, 17th century; circular panel, Gethsemane, silver stain, late 16th century; central light, circular panel, Crucifixion with Mary Magdalene, silver stain, late 16th century; fragment with winged cherub, grisaille, 17th century; right light, armorial held by angel, silver stain and sanguine, German, inscription below, dated 1630; circular panel, Carrying the Cross, silver stain, late 16th century, from the same series as the other two panels of this date. [Figs. 7 and 8]
Weare Giffard, (Weare Giffard Hall)
Private house. In the hall, especially in the N window above the gallery, and elsewhere in the house, miscellanies including Flemish roundels.
- Anon., The Grosvenor Thomas Collection of Stained Glass, New York: trade catalogue, 1913
- Anon., The Grosvenor Thomas Collection of Stained Glass: Part II, New York: trade catalogue, 1913
- Cole, W., A Catalogue of Netherlandish and North European Roundels in Britain, Corpus Vitrearum Great Britain, Summary Catalogue 1, Oxford, 1993
- Cook, D., ‘Continental Painted Glass Panels at the Royal Clarence Hotel, Exeter’, Journal of Stained Glass, Vol 33, 2009, pp. 26–49
- Cherry, B. and Pevsner, N., Devon, (second edition), Harmondsworth: Penguin,1998
- Devonshire Association Transactions, 63, 1931, 38.
- MD [Maurice Drake] , ‘Seventeenth-century Stained Glass in Upton Pyne Church’, Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, Vol 6, 1911, 177–178; illustrations opposite 177 and 184
- Mee, A., Devon, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1938 (reprinted 1959)
- Spurr, D., Devon Churches: Vol. II. Braunton, Devon: Merlin Books, 1984
Wayment, H., King’s College Chapel Cambridge: The Side-Chapel Glass. Cambridge: Cambridge Antiquarian Society and the Provost and Scholars of King’s College, Cambridge, 1988