The Ten Commandments at the Museum-Schnütgen
This month’s feature examines panels from the Ten Commandments Window formerly at the Carmelite church in Boppard-am-Rhein, and now displayed at the Museum-Schnütgen, Cologne.
The article is written by Eleanor Leahy, a graduate of the MA in Stained Glass Conservation and Heritage Management at the University of York.
All images by Eleanor Leahy.
The northern nave aisle of the Carmelite church at Boppard-am-Rhein was once decorated with a vast fifteenth-century glazing scheme consisting of seven windows (numbered from nIV to nX in the CVMA numbering). On account of the political upheavals in the nineteenth century following the Napoleonic invasion of the Rhineland, these monumental windows were dismantled, and through a series of sales and acquisitions their component parts are now dispersed amongst public and private collections around the globe. Apart from the glass in the Museum-Schnütgen, the extant panels may be found today in numerous collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the San Francisco Fine Arts Museum, the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, and the Burrell Collection in Glasgow.
The Ten Commandments cycle consisted of forty-two panels, arranged across six lancets. All the panels from the window survive: the Burrell Collection possesses seven panels originally from the upper tier of the window, the Museum-Schnütgen holds all twenty-one panels from the lower half of the window (Fig. 1), and the remaining fourteen panels are held at Ochre Court, Rhode Island.
The Ten Commandments at the Museum-Schnütgen
The lower register of the window, displayed at the Museum-Schnütgen, depicts St Elizabeth of Thuringia crowned by two angels beneath a decorated architectural canopy (Fig. 2). She is flanked by two heraldic supporters with peacock-feather wings bearing shields emblazoned with the imperial arms. Above are two smaller angels standing within the towers of the microarchitecture, holding banners inscribed with Ambrosian hymns of praise. The first six of the Ten Commandments begin in the fourth row of the window; the first two commandments are combined into one two-panel scene, while the other four are allocated two panels each (Figs 3 and 4). The sinful and the virtuous are juxtaposed within each scene, below a demi-figure of God, who holds a banner inscribed with the related commandment. As the window is read from left to right Moses Receiving the Tablets of the Law from God should begin the cycle (Fig. 5); these panels are found however on the right side of the window. Jane Hayward has also demonstrated that the Ambrosian hymns read incorrectly with the panels in their current positions, showing that the two outer lancets have been switched.
The Ten Commandments panels are an important example of the middle-Rhenish style of glass-painting. The panels contain no architectural borders, and this feature together with the repeated background and chequered floors allows the scenes to appear to interconnect across the mullions. The lively and energetic scenes in each panel are densely filled with stocky figures with expressive facial features, and animated gestures unrestricted by architectural confines. The alternating backgrounds of rich blue pot-metal and flashed-ruby glasses brilliantly saturate the composition with colour.
The ‘Imperial Window’
A letter from Gerhard, titular bishop of Serona, to Jacob von Sierck, archbishop of Trier (1439–56), confirms a consecration date of 1444 for the northern extension of the Carmelite church. The identification of a donor for the Ten Commandments cycle, and indeed the entirety of the glazing scheme, has been the focus of attention in the most recently published research on the Boppard windows. In 2009, Rüdiger Becksmann convincingly demonstrated the instrumental role that von Sierck played in the decoration of the north nave aisle, by sourcing donors for the stained glass and also donating his own window, which depicted the Throne of Solomon. The archbishop appears to have taken a personal interest in the building project as a result of his familial and financial connections to Boppard, which is reflected in the inclusion of his shield and arms in the central keystone of the extension. Becksmann also suggested that it was von Sierck who secured the donation of the Ten Commandments Window from Emperor Albrecht II and his wife Elizabeth of Luxemburg. That the window was of a royal donation has been assumed by the double appearance of the imperial arms within the window; an article published in 1877 in the Archiv für Kirchliche Baukunst und Kirchenschmuck refers to ‘das sogennante “Kaiserfenster”’ (‘the so-called “Imperial Window”’). The inclusion of St Elizabeth of Thuringia towards the foot of the central lancet also supports this claim, since she served as the patron of Elizabeth of Luxemburg, as does the architectural embellishment of the church: while the central keystone bears the shield and arms of von Sierck, the keystone to the east is adorned with a golden eagle on a black ground set within a cinquefoil, the imperial arms (Fig. 6). Becksmann places the window that was a shared donation of von Sierck and Kuno von Piermont, a Boppard nobleman, in nVII, in the central bay. Therefore the bay to the east, nVI, is likely to have been the original position of the Ten Commandments Window. In this way, the decoration of the keystones identifies the donors of the stained glass within the nave aisle of the church.
Dispersal from the Carmelite Church
The first event that ultimately led to the dispersal of the stained glass from the Carmelite church at Boppard-am-Rhein was the invasion of the Rhineland by Napoleon at the close of the eighteenth century. For the duration of their occupation of the Rhineland, the French also took many anti-clericalist measures, abolishing the three electorates of the Rhineland, the bishoprics of Mainz, Cologne, and Trier, and secularizing the monasteries in 1794. After its secularization, the Carmelite church became property of the town of Boppard. The glazing scheme of the north nave aisle was bought by Prince Hermann von Pückler (1785–1871) in 1818 and removed from the church. The prince intended the glass to be installed within the von Pückler funerary chapel in Muskau, although this plan never came to fruition. The chapel itself was never constructed due to a lack of funds, and in 1845 von Pückler sold the property and moved to his father’s estate in Branitz, taking all the windows with him, with the exception of panels from the Throne of Solomon Window, which remained at Muskau. The windows were stored for nearly thirty years in crates in a barn on the von Pückler estate in Branitz, until the prince’s death in 1871. In the year of von Pückler’s death, his heir, Count Pückler-Branitz, sent the entire collection of Boppard panels to Berlin for restoration and sale at the Königliches Institut für Glasmalerei (Royal Institute for Stained Glass).
Restoration at the Royal Institute for Stained Glass
The Royal Institute for Stained Glass was established during a time of Historicist revival of medieval monuments. In the early nineteenth century, Prussian medieval churches and their stained-glass windows were in a state of great disrepair, as a result of the occupation of the Rhineland by Napoleon and his anticlerical policies. The medieval buildings destroyed and looted by the Napoleonic armies became imbued with nationalist feeling through association with a great German past. In 1815, the writer Joseph Görres lamented the loss of fragments from the nation’s cultural heritage, pronouncing ‘Ein Volk aber soll sich seine Geschichte nicht abstehlen lassen’ (‘A people should not allow its history to be stolen away’).  In the same year, pressed by the architect Friedrich Schinkel, King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia called for the ‘Erhaltung aller Denkmäler und Alterhümer unseres Lander’ (‘the preservation of all monuments and antiquities in our country’). It was not until 1843 that his successor King Friedrich Wilhelm IV founded the Royal Institute, as an institute dedicated ‘zur würdigen Ausstattung mittelalterlicher Kirchen’ (‘to the dignified decoration of medieval churches’). The stated aim of the institute was to achieve the ‘wiederherstellung des ursprünglichen, durch unbill von zeit und menschen geschmaelerten zustandes’ (‘the restoration of the original state, which has been diminished by the wrongs of time and man’). Friedrich Wilhelm sought to preserve the nation’s heritage by restoring fragmented monuments. These restorations were as much to preserve a tangible symbol of past greatness, asserting temporal power and the legitimacy of Catholic doctrine, as they were to create an idealist image of beauty. It was not until the last quarter of the nineteenth century however that the restoration of historic stained glass received a great deal of attention. In 1883, the institute received a new director, the glass-painter H. Bernhard from Munich. Bernhard’s aims were to restore stained-glass windows as close to their original intended state as possible, including the replacement of missing pieces.
An article from Archiv für Kirchliche Baukunst und Kirchenschmuck published in 1877 and transcribed in full by Wentzel confirms that the Boppard windows, the Ten Commandments cycle among them, were sent to Berlin for restoration. The article observes that ‘Der Hauptgegensatz des ganzen, an 24 Fuß hohen, trefflich erhaltenen und im Einzelnen recht gut in dem genannten Institut restaurierten Glasgemäldes war eine Anbetung der Maria, umgeben von Darstellungen der “Zehn Gebote”’ (‘The principal subject of the 24-foot-high, splendidly preserved and in places very well restored in the said glass-painting institute was an Adoration of the Virgin, surrounded by representations of the “Ten Commandments”’). In his authoritative two-volume 1912 examination of the glass, Rheinische Glasmalereien, Heinrich Oidtmann included photographs of six half-windows from the Boppard glazing scheme; these photographs were produced while the windows were undergoing restoration treatment in Berlin and before they were acquired by Spitzer (see below). Volume I includes a photograph of the lower half of the Ten Commandments cycle. While the exact date of the photograph is unknown, it can be concluded that it was produced at a late stage in the treatment of this window, as it is possible to identify in it restoration inserts that must date from the nineteenth-century restoration campaign. This photograph is the earliest known record that shows the appearance of the window clearly and is therefore of great value in determining the nature of the restoration treatments carried out in Berlin, when comparison is made with the panels in the Museum-Schnütgen in their current state.
Each panel of the Boppard glazing scheme bears a painted label applied to the surface of the glass. (Fig. 7) Wentzel was the first to recognize the significance of the labels: the letters indicate the window to which the panels belong, with the numbers representing the order of the individual panels within the composition. Wentzel believed that the labels were applied when the panels were removed from the church or sometime after. As the labels are visible in the nineteenth-century photograph, they were certainly applied before their sale at Berlin. It should be noted however that the numbers cannot be taken as reliable evidence for the original composition of the windows: according to the labels, the panels of the Ten Commandments are in the correct position, but as demonstrated above, the outer lancets have been switched. Interestingly, the letters do correspond to the placement of the windows within the church itself, when compared to Becksmann’s 2009 reconstruction of the scheme. The Throne of Solomon Window was assigned the label ‘A’, and was positioned by Becksmann in the east wall of the nave, in nIV. The Ten Commandments Window was labelled ‘C’ and therefore, proceeding westwards from the Throne of Solomon Window, is placed in nVI, a position corroborated by the evidence of the heraldic embellishments of the north aisle keystones. This suggests that the alphabetic labels on the windows were not assigned arbitrarily by the Berlin restorers, and they had knowledge of the original layout of the glazing scheme within the Carmelite church. According to the 2009 examination of the windows by Gepa Datz, drawings were apparently made of the glazing scheme while it was still installed at the Carmelite church, and these drawings were known to the restorers at the Royal Institute. Datz cites a letter dated 20 April 1871 as providing evidence for the existence of the drawings, which was written by the then owner of the windows. Datz does not specify the name of the author of this letter, although it must have been Count Pückler-Branitz, who had inherited the Boppard windows upon the death of his father, Prince Hermann von Pückler, earlier in 1871. In the letter Pückler-Branitz offers the town of Boppard the opportunity to buy back the windows of the Carmelite church, ‘entweder in dem in den Zeichnungen beschriebenen Zustande, oder durch die Königliche Glasmalerei in Berlin erst vollständig restaurirt’ (‘either in the state described in the drawings, or when they have been fully restored by the Royal Institute in Berlin’). Unfortunately the letter does not contain more information concerning the detail included in the drawings, and although they were held at the institute in Berlin, they have now been lost. While it is not clear how detailed these drawings were, it is possible that they did include the original position of each window within the church as well as its design. It is also possible that the labels were applied to the panels in preparation for auction, to indicate the position of the panels in the composition, but also to perhaps signify that each panel is part of a larger collection and thereby maximize its value.
My own examination of the Ten Commandments panels noted evidence of the Berlin restoration. Panel 4c, which depicts the lower half of Moses’s body, is entirely of nineteenth-century origin, and there are several other replacement pieces of this date (Fig. 8). Losses have occurred to the painted detail, perhaps due to the humid conditions in which the panels were stored on the Pückler estate in Branitz. Retouching of these details has been carried out and can probably also be attributed to the nineteenth-century restoration campaign (Fig. 9). For the most part however it appears that intervention by the restorers at the Royal Institute was not extensive, perhaps due to the excellent condition of the glass. It was particularly remarkable that corrosion phenomena were largely absent from the surface of the glass, which can be attributed largely to the fact that the windows were removed from the church in the early nineteenth century, at a period prior to that when the atmosphere, by then highly polluted with industrial sulphuric contaminants, had its greatest impact. Senior Conservator Marie Stumpff of the Burrell Collection is currently engaged in conservation of the Boppard panels held there. This important project will be invaluable in understanding the nature of the treatments employed by the Berlin restorers.
The Schnütgen Collection: ‘Colligite fragmenta ne pereant’
The Boppard windows were bought from the Royal Institute in 1871 by Friedrich Spitzer, a private art collector in Paris. As one of the most important assemblages of art objects of the nineteenth century, Spitzer’s vast collection included artefacts from Classical antiquity, as well as from the medieval and Renaissance periods. The Spitzer collection, like others assembled at this time, was shaped by the events caused by the French Revolution at the turn of the century. The objects forming these collections had long been displaced from their original settings, plundered from historical monuments by the armies of Napoleon and subsequently acquired by opportunist collectors. Upon Spitzer’s death, his entire collection of antiquities were sold at auction. The collection, including the Boppard windows, is described the Catalogue des Objects d’Art composant l’importante et précieuse Collection Spitzer. The auction, which took place in 1893, is the point at which the panels the Ten Commandments cycle, which had hitherto shared the same history and the same window, were dispersed to different places.
After the auction of Spitzer’s collection, the lower half of the Ten Commandments window came into the possession of the Cologne collector Caspar Bourgeois in 1893. In 1897, Otto von Falke, director of the Kunstgerwerbemuseum in Cologne, acquired these panels at the auction of the Bourgeois collection. Since 1932, the panels have been within the collection of the Museum-Schnütgen. Alexander Schnütgen (1843–1918), founder of the Museum-Schnütgen, assembled one of the most important collections of religious art of the nineteenth century. His motto was ‘Colligite fragmenta ne pereant’ – ‘Collect the fragments less they perish’; collecting religious art was a method of preserving the tangible symbols of religious and ethical values he saw vanishing or changing within his society. The sense of political unease within nineteenth-century Europe after the French Revolution created a nostalgic longing for the medieval, pre-industrial past.
By the close of the nineteenth century, the study of medieval works of art had received attention outside of the circle of antiquarians and connoisseurs, with scholars taking a more disciplined approach to the subject. The study of medieval art thereby achieved a status within the discipline of art history akin to that afforded to the study of the Renaissance or Classical antiquity. It is within this context of developments in the academic study of art of the middle ages that collections of medieval objects were reinstalled in public museums. In 1906, Schnütgen donated his entire collection of artefacts to the city of Cologne; four years later in 1910 the collection was opened with great ceremony in an annex to the Kunstgerwerbemuseum in Cologne. Franz Witte succeeded Schnütgen as director of the museum after the latter’s death in 1918. In 1932, the Museum-Schnütgen was established at St Heribert, a basilica located in the Deutz district of Cologne, after the decentralization of the museums within the city. This reorganization of Cologne’s museums also involved the transfer of objects across the collections. It was at this time that the Kunstgerwerbemuseum gave the Museum-Schnütgen its entire collection of stained-glass windows, which included the panels of the Ten Commandments window. After the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the Museum-Schnütgen, like the other museums of Cologne, closed. It reopened in 1956 at its third and current location, the Romanesque Church of St Cecilia, where the Ten Commandments panels are displayed alongside important examples of stained glass ranging from the Romanesque to the Renaissance periods.
The Boppard glazing scheme has greatly maintained the interest of art collectors since the windows were dismantled from the church in 1818. As James Rorimer of The Metropolitan Museum of Art stated upon the acquisition of the Boppard panels by The Cloisters in 1938: ‘the fact that it has been possible to obtain, almost intact, large panels of such good quality is remarkable’. The Ten Commandments panels are outstanding for the excellent quality of their craftsmanship, but also as an important example of a fifteenth-century Rhenish glazing cycle that has survived largely intact.
Archiv für Kirchliche Baukunst und Kirchenschmuck, II, Berlin, 1877 transcribed in Hans Wentzel, ‘Unbekannte mittelalterliche Glasmalereien der Burrell Collection zu Glasgow’ (3. Teil)’, Pantheon, 19, 1961, pp. 242–43
Rüdiger Becksmann, ‘Learning from Muskau: The Throne of Solomon Window from the Carmelite Church at Boppard and its Donation by Jakob von Sierck, Archbishop of Trier (1439-56)’, Evelyn Staudinger Lane, Elizabeth Carson Pastan and Ellen M. Shortell (eds), The Four Modes of Seeing: Approaches to Medieval Imagery in Honor of Madeline H. Caviness, Massachusetts, 2009, pp. 111–32
Catalogue des Objets d’Art composant l’importante et précieuse Collection Spitzer, Paris, 1893
Datz, Gepa, ‘Die Karmeliterfenster von Boppard. Ein quellenkritischer Beitrag zur kontroverse ihrer Rekonstruktion’ in Weber, K. T., Heeg, L. and Dette, G., Magister operis: Beiträge zur mittelalterlichen Architektur Europas, Mainz, 2008, pp. 203–216
Eva Fitz, ‘Les Restaurations reconstructives de l’Institut Royal du Vitrail de Berlin’, in Jacques Barlet (ed.), Grisaille, jaune d’argent, sanguine, émail et peinture à froid: Techniques et conservation, Liège, 1996, pp. 155–62
Eva Fitz, ‘Die rekonstruktiven Restaurierungen des Königlichen Instituts für Glasmalerei in Berlin. Technische und ikonographische Methoden der Ergänzung im Zeitalter des Historismus’, in A. Wolff, (ed.), Restaurierung und Konservierung historischer Glasmalereien, Mainz, 2000, pp. 36–46
Joseph Görres, ‘Die Zurücknahme der Kunst und wissenschaftliche Werke’, in Wolfgang Frühwald (ed.), Josef Görres: Ausgewählte Werke, I, Freiburg/Basel/Vienna, 1978, p. 278
Jane Hayward, ‘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. 75–114
Jane Hayward, ‘Neue Funde zur Glasmalerei aus der Karmeliterkirche zu Boppard am Rhein’, Bau- und Bildkunst im Spiegel internationaler Forschung, Festschrift zum 80. Geburtstag von Edgar Lehmann, Berlin, 1989, pp. 182–93
Netzer and Reinburg 2000
N. Netzer and V. Reinburg (eds), Fragmented Devotion: medieval objects from the Schnütgen Museum, Cologne, 2000
Heinrich Oidtmann, Rheinische Glasmalereien, 2 vols, Düsseldorf, 1912
Hans Wentzel, ‘Unbekannte mittelalterliche Glasmalerein der Burrell Collection zu Glasgow’ (3. Teil)’, Pantheon, 19, 1961, pp. 240–43
Hiltrud Westerman-Angerhausen, ‘Alexander Schnütgen’s Devotion to the Middle Ages’, in Netzer and Reinburg 2000, pp. 60–67
Brigitte Lymant, Die Glasmalereien des Schnütgen-Museums: Bestandskatalog, Cologne, 1982
Hermann Schnitzler, Das Schnütgen-Museum, eine Auswahl, Cologne, 1961
Dagmar Täube, Rheinische Glasmalerei: Meisterwerke der Renaissance, Regensburg, 2007
1. A diagram of the original composition of the Ten Commandments Window and the current locations of each panel can be found Becksmann 2009, p. 121.
2. Hayward 1989, p. 192, n. 17.
3. A transcript of this document can be found in Hayward 1969, p. 114.
4. Becksmann 2009.
5. Ibid., p. 126.
6. The article is transcribed in full in Wentzel 1969, p. 243.
7. Wentzel 1961, p. 240.
8. Görres 1815.
8. Fitz 1996, p. 143.
9. Fitz 2000, p. 36.
10. Fitz 2000, p. 36.
11. Wentzel 1961, p. 242.
12. Oidtmann 1912, pp. 230–33, pl. XVIII, and Oidtmann 1921, p. 276, figs 418–21.
13. Wentzel 1969, p. 245.
14. Becksmann 2009, p. 118.
15. The Boppard panels are detailed in Catalogue 1893: vitraux pp. 65–66, nos. 1953–61, and supplément vitraux pp. 269–71, nos. 3349–69
16. Datz 2009, p. 204, n. 6.
18. Ibid. I would like to thank Ivo Rauch for his help in translating this article.
20. Westermann-Angerhausen 2000, p. 61.