Leicester Cathedral

The Appreciation of Stained Glass by Sasha Ward

dorset.jpg

On a beautiful day in Dorset, here I am in front of a cricket pitch on my way into Milton Abbey to appreciate some stained glass. Once inside, the abbey opens into a magnificent tall transept. On the north side is a monument to the Damers underneath a heraldic window bordered by roses and on the south side a huge tree of Jesse window designed by AWN Pugin and made by Hardmans, in typically vivid colours.

Left, south transept window above monument to Joseph & Caroline Damer. Right, Tree of Jesse window by Pugin, 1847.

Left, south transept window above monument to Joseph & Caroline Damer. Right, Tree of Jesse window by Pugin, 1847.

However, I was not in Milton Abbas for the abbey but rather to see a Lawrence Lee window in St James Church in the famous landscaped village street. I’ve never knowingly seen a Lee window, but he wrote a book “The Appreciation of Stained Glass” which was one in the series on the appreciation of the arts published by the Oxford University Press. That was in 1977, the year that I went to the Central School of Art to do my Foundation Course and to learn how to make stained glass properly - in preparation I read Lee’s book thoroughly. Re reading it now I can see where I picked up many of my stained glass dos and don’ts based on the study of church windows - in particular lots of don’ts and harsh opinions on celebrated twentieth century windows.

Left, in front of the 1970 Lee window (I usually need a chair for taking photos). Right, the top of the window

Left, in front of the 1970 Lee window (I usually need a chair for taking photos). Right, the top of the window

I particularly like his chapter on (glass) painting which is one of the few to show an example of his own work, a distinctive head of St. Columba. Just from those few images I would have recognised these figures anywhere, and I’ve concluded that it’s his figures I particularly like, when usually it’s the figures in a window that I hate. These, St Catherine and the Virgin Mary shown below, remind me of inky black and white book illustration of the same period. Here is a passage from the painting chapter that is good to bear in mind when on these church visiting trips :

“The argument will always go on between those who make and those who talk about what is made - and it is very useful to both parties that it should be so. I believe, however, that in the context of this Appreciation of the Arts Series we ought to instruct ourselves to look, filtering out as far as possible any purely mental questions about dates, styles, authenticities and so on (all that is fun afterwards), so that appreciation becomes an impulsion of our physical self toward’s the artists work We must literally pick up from the very point at which the glass painter’s brush left the glass, seeing what he saw as he laid it aside for firing.”

Lawrence Lee details - left, St Catherine and right, The Virgin and child.

Lawrence Lee details - left, St Catherine and right, The Virgin and child.

Tom Denny window, St Mary, Tarrant Hinton 2000

Tom Denny window, St Mary, Tarrant Hinton 2000

Our route home went through Tarrant Hinton, so we made a stop to see a Tom Denny window. I have seen so much of his work recently that it’s beginning to grow on me - the leading patterns so particular that you can spot one in a church even when driving past. The presence of this small window, on a Dorset landscape theme, is huge with an overall golden glow. Here are some wise words from Denny:

“Colour is the most immediate thing about glass; most of your problems are solved if the colour is right for the place. Although I don’t aim to make glass look as if it were made hundreds of years ago, a happy by-product of the way I work - etching, plating and staining - not only enriches the surface, but creates a visual fragility equivalent to old glass.” From an interview with Tom Denny in Contemporary Stained Glass Artists by Kate Baden Fuller A & C Black 2006.

I forgot to take the outside of the Tarrant Hinton window, so I’ve shown one in Leicester (below) from inside and out. You can see the irregular look of the lead pattern, and also the way that he draws his figures (animals in the Dorset window) as if they are knitted in to the backgrounds. That part of his work hasn’t grown on me yet, perhaps it’s the hardest thing to do well.

One of two Tom Denny 2016 windows in Leicester Cathedral from the inside and the outside.

One of two Tom Denny 2016 windows in Leicester Cathedral from the inside and the outside.

Stained Glass Figures by Sasha Ward

East Window by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. 1870, St. Martin's on Brabyn's Brow, Low Marple 

East Window by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. 1870, St. Martin's on Brabyn's Brow, Low Marple 

The Church of St. Martin's, Low Marple, near Stockport, was designed and built in 1869 -70 by the Arts and Crafts architect, John Dando Sedding. 'The Firm'  (Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.) made three windows for the church; the east window (above), includes figures designed by Burne-Jones, William Morris, Ford Madox Brown and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Visitors come specially to look at this example of a faulty and unrestored window by the firm. As with many windows from this period by a number of stained glass companies, the paintwork quickly deteriorated - came off, not faded as the guidebooks incorrectly say. This defect, caused by using borax in the paint, was something that William Morris corrected by repainting and firing much of the glass in the firm's early windows, but not this one. Here, the appearance of the mostly unpainted glass, with details and patterns removed, reveals the overall design of the window in quite an appealing way. 

St. Peter from St. Nicholas Beaudesert (left), from St. Martin's Low Marple (right) 

St. Peter from St. Nicholas Beaudesert (left), from St. Martin's Low Marple (right) 

You can learn a lot about stained glass techniques from this window. As you can see in the detail (above right), the silverstain (transparent gold colour) is still there in WM's familiar self portrait as St. Peter although most of the opaque black lines have gone. The comparison with the same figure from Beaudesert also helps.

Since I've started looking at stained glass by Morris & Co. I've had a lot of fun spotting the reappearance of figures throughout their works in tapestry and embroidery as well as stained glass. In this church I found a fourth version of Burne-Jone's Mary, with its paintwork almost intact. 

Marys left to right: St. Martin's Low Marple 1873, St. Nicholas Beaudesert 1865, St. Mary's Sopworth 1873, St. Martin-on-the-Hill Scarborough 1868. 

Marys left to right: St. Martin's Low Marple 1873, St. Nicholas Beaudesert 1865, St. Mary's Sopworth 1873, St. Martin-on-the-Hill Scarborough 1868. 

Christopher Whall at Low Marple: The Lady Chapel added in 1895, South West Window 1899, West Window 1892.

Christopher Whall at Low Marple: The Lady Chapel added in 1895, South West Window 1899, West Window 1892.

The church is also notable for slightly later works by Christopher Whall. The Lady Chapel, with an eccentric 3D ceiling and an altar painting of The Annunciation, is worth going to see. And in his beautiful West Window is a character I had seen and admired recently in Leicester Cathedral (below). It is interesting to compare the differences in colour, background pattern and detail in the two versions of essentially the same figure. 

St. Martin from Low Marple (left), from Leicester Cathedral 1907 (right)

St. Martin from Low Marple (left), from Leicester Cathedral 1907 (right)

I generally identify the stained glass of Christopher Whall by the way he paints people's facial features. The faces of the angels in the great East Window in Leicester Cathedral are typical. When you zoom in on the little people in the boat in the otherwise untypical Whall South West window at Low Marple (below) you can tell that this window is one of his.

Details from Christopher Whall windows, Leicester Cathedral 1920 (left), Low Marple (right)

Details from Christopher Whall windows, Leicester Cathedral 1920 (left), Low Marple (right)