Martin Crampin, Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, Talybont: Y Lolfa Cyf, 2014, 341pp., 795 colour illus. (plus 7 further colour illus. to endpapers) ISBN 9781847718259, £29.95
The first thing to note is that Martin Crampin is to be congratulated on bringing out his first book, which the author himself designed and for which he provided much of the photography [Fig. 1]. This is no mean feat in itself. Secondly, regional surveys of stained glass of all periods in the British Isles are so rare that any contribution to the literature should be welcomed, and one so ably informed and such a visual treat more so. The book does not stint on illustrations, all of which are in colour and reproduced with few exceptions to a very high standard. The layout is a little idiosyncratic, with footnotes in the margins, and captions for the illustrations (which are not cross-referenced in the text) where space will allow, but that is a minor quibble. As the title implies, the subject is very deliberately restricted to such stained glass as will be found in Welsh churches, as the more readily accessible to an art-loving public. And treasures there are, with examples supplied by a wide swathe of English, Irish and Continental studios and/or artists, despite the absence of native studios (bar some nineteenth- and twentieth-century amateurs) until after the Second World War. As a bonus, Crampin also examines the differing tastes and patterns of patronage adopted by Roman Catholic and Nonconformist congregations, a subject very rarely attempted – if at all – in comparable surveys. Nor does Crampin fight shy of the stylistic conservatism that has for too long hindered the medium’s proper appreciation as Art, nor the collaborative nature of its production; in a welcome move, the names of executant studios take precedence over designers, except for those windows clearly the handiwork of a single artist.
As readers may recall, Martin Crampin has been engaged for some years on recording the stained glass and other religious artworks of Wales, with the support of the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (see Vidimus 57, February 2012). The fruits of this invaluable research were subsequently made available through the Imaging the Bible in Wales and Stained Glass in Wales online databases. The new book further distils this work into one handy volume, the wealth of illustrations allowing for easier comparison of the visual material. It is pitched at a more general reader, and as such there are few surprises for the scholar. The twelve principal chapters follow a more-or-less chronological progress from the late medieval period to the present day, offering remarkably even-handed assessments. The final trio of chapters (‘Modernism in Stained Glass’, ‘In Search of Creative Freedom’ and ‘A New Millennium’) are especially valuable as a summary of the most recent developments, even if the diversity of stylistic approaches – or if you will, the lack of aesthetic consistency – can be somewhat disconcerting. Crampin’s view of the Arts and Crafts Movement, not as a style, but as a creative stance, one in which artistic expression is mediated through conspicuous displays of making, leads to his welcome demotion of Messrs. Morris & Co. from the Arts and Crafts pantheon. Also valuable are the discussions of immediately post-medieval glass, the importation of foreign panels by patrons in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and the role of aristocratic (usually Tractarian) amateur artists during the Gothic Revival. Two chapters look at the phenomenon of the Victorian memorial window and its later re-imagining in commemorating both the peace and the fallen of two world wars. If space did not allow for a more searching analysis of the source imagery in the latter, this chapter nevertheless offers a marker for future researchers on the sheer diversity of the war memorial window as a genre.
As an accessible general survey of a nation’s heritage in stained glass, this volume can hardly be bettered, and it is moreover a handsome feast for the eye. Let us hope that it will spur others to investigate the subject more seriously, and not just in Wales.
All images are reproduced by permission of Martin Crampin.