In October of 2014 I spent a day in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Although the Met’s primary collection of Medieval art is at their Cloisters location, the 5th Avenue building offers visitors a wonderful collection of stained glass from France, England and Germany dating from around 1170 to the mid 1500’s. (Of course the Met’s collection includes many examples of later glass from Europe and the United States.) I hope you enjoy seeing some of the photos I took that day and reading the information I have gathered about these amazing stained-glass panels.
As Thomas Hoving writes in the Metropolitan Museum Bulletin (1971-72), “Only a small percentage of medieval glass survives today. Not only was it subject to war and weather, but also to the persistence of renovators who removed old windows to replace them with whatever tracery and glass was then stylish.”
The text in this blog post is based on material from English and French Medieval Stained Glass in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Jane Hayward: revised and edited by Mary B. Shepard and Cynthia Clark (2003), and from Stained Glass Windows in the Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v 30. no 3, December 1971-January 1972, as well as from gallery labels and the museum’s excellent web site . (Better scholarship would certainly have mentioned the exact source and location of information I used from those excellent resources as I included it. As they say in 1300, Mea Culpa.)
My blog is primarily about stained glass in Kansas City’s religious institutions. But periodically I will include related glass from churches and museums I have enjoyed in other cities. This collection of early glass in the Met joins my discussion of the early glass panels in my much loved Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art here in Kansas City and located elsewhere in this blog in the Museums collection.
French, from the Cathedral of Saint-Etienne, Bourges
The red face below is probably from a depiction of the Last Judgement. The final fragment is probably from a Crucifixion scene.
God (Incarnate as Jesus Christ) Closing the Door to Noah’s Ark
French, Poitiers, from the History of Noah Window, the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre
Painted around 1190
In Medieval to late Gothic art, God is often represented as Christ, His Incarnation. Thus it is Christ who is shown closing the door of Noah’s ark. It is thought that this fragment was originally part of a roundel, and may be the sole surviving piece from a large window depicting the whole story of Noah which had been in the Cathedral of Poitiers. It is typical of West French glass from the late 12th century and recalls Romanesque frescoes from the nearby Church of St. Savin, painted about 60 years earlier in about 1130.
Much early glass was destroyed during the English wars of 1346, when Henry, Count of Derby, viciously attacked the churches in the town of Poitiers and pillaged the Cathedral. The Cathedral was also damaged again by the Huguenots in wars of 1562 and 1569. In addition to destruction from wars, many windows in the Cathedral have been moved or replaced in frequent restoration efforts over the years.
The use of “cool” colors was standard in glass from western France at the end of the 12th century. Red was used sparingly. The greenish-blue background would not have been common.
A Panel with Censing Angels from a Dormition of the Virgin window
French, Troyes, Collegiate Church of Saint-Etienne, ca. 1170
Here two angels swing golden censers.
Christ Healing the Paralytic Man (Fragment)
From the Public Life of Christ Window
French, Troyes, Collegiate Church of Saint-Etienne, ca. 1170
Scenes from the public life of Christ were common in the 12th century, but representation of his miracles is rare. This fragment, and the original larger panel, was probably part of a larger iconographic program involving several windows. Scholars believe that this panel was probably painted by a manuscript painter because the meticulous technique- the precision of line and fineness of detail- was not common in glass of this period. Noteworthy for this period also are the unusual colors of lemon yellow, light greenish blue, and deep wine pink.
The Prophet Abiud
(The bust of Abiud and the body of another ancestor of Christ)
French, Braine, from the Church of Saint-Yved, painted about 1195-1205
According to the Gospel of Matthew (1:13) Abiud is one of the ancestors of Christ.
The upper portion of this figure is from the genealogy series of the clerestory windows in the Abbey of Saint-Remi in Rheims. The lower portion still in Rheims has a “modern” head. The lower section of Abiud’s torso and legs is actually from a separate ancestor figure. The upper bust section was once attached to a newer body. By the end of the 12th century, large figures were commonly used for the upper windows of Gothic churches because the larger proportions made them more easily discernable from the nave.
Scenes from the Legend of Saint Vincent of Saragossa
French, originally from the chapel (now destroyed) of the Abbey of Saint Germain-des-Pres, Paris, painted around 1245-47
The legend of Saint Vincent of Saragossa was one of the most popular hagiographical subjects represented in stained glass in the 13th century.
The monks of Saint Germain-des-Pres had special devotion for Saint Vincent (d.304) because their abbey was founded to receive a relic from the saint’s tunic. The relic was transported from Spain by the Merovingian King, Childbert, and his brother, Clothar, King of the Franks. King Childbert is shown in this window on horseback accompanied by his brother, King Clothar. In other scenes Valerius, the Bishop of Saragossa, and Vincent, his Dean, are seen confronting Dacian, the Roman Proconsul. Dacian is seen sitting on his throne with two guards, ordering the arrest of Valerius and Vincent, and condemning them for their faith. Bishop Valerius and Vincent are then seen in chains on their way to prison. Finally we see Saint Vincent’s body being thrown into the sea, Bishop Valerius having been spared in respect of his age. Above we see a man in a tower blowing an oliphant and censing angels.
Tree of Jesse Window
German, Swabia, Painted 1280-1300
Jesse is understood to be an ancestor of Jesus (Isaiah 11:1). Here Jesse is depicted as the root of a great tree. As he lies asleep, a tree rises from his side in his dream. In this window prophets hold scrolls that foretell the coming of Christ. King David is prominent, holding his harp. Upper roundels contain scenes from the life of Jesus. The window includes scenes of the Presentation, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Ascension. In the late 13th century, the treatment of the Jesse Tree in stained glass windows underwent a transformation. In general, the usual inclusion of Christ’s ancestors was replaced with scenes from his life which were juxtaposed with Old Testament prototypes in adjacent lancets. This window includes scenes from Jesus’s life (infancy and passion), but also includes the genealogical figure of King David. Also of note, the panels depicting the last Supper and the Ascension show all of the Apostles treated in one group-with several heads on one piece of glass.
Scenes from The Life of the Virgin
German, from a former Carmelite church in Boppard-am-Rhein, ca. 1444
Two Scenes From the Passion of Christ
These four panels are very likely from a lost Jesse Tree window. The church in Boppard-am-Rhein was dedicated to the Virgin, the patroness of the Carmelite order. Each of the windows depicted an aspect of her legend. The Virgin was given an unusual emphasis in this Jesse Tree window. Scenes from her life, including the Nativity and the Visitation, were placed in the central light, above the reclining Jesse, while side lancets contained scenes from Christ’s Passion. Symbolically, Mary was the trunk of the tree that bore the fruit of Christ’s sacrifice.
Head of John the Baptist
Probably painted by the Master of the Life of John the Baptist
France, Normandy, Rouen (?) ca. 1500-1510
The head, cut from another composition, has been inserted. Surrounds of various pieces of contemporaneous glass have been cut and arranged to complete the image.
Saint Gerard with His Protector, Gerard de Haraucourt, Bishop of Toul
Large Composite Window
English, 15th century
Standing Apostles and Saints
Gloucestershire, ca. 1475-80
Each of the Apostles and saints is identified by his or her attribute and by inscriptions on the niches under which they stand: Saint Andrew by his X shaped cross, Saint Peter by his key, Saint James the Great by his pilgrim staff and hat, and by the scrip bearing a scallop shell, Saint Mathias (or Matthew). Below them are Saint Stephen, Saint Margaret of Antioch, Edward the Confessor, and Saint Catherine of Alexandria with her attributes of the sword and the wheel, and ??.
Saint James the Great, English, 1475-80 (detail)
Norfolk, ca. 1450
Saint Barbara is shown holding her attribute, the tower where she was imprisoned by her father. She is standing under an elaborate architectural element which includes the letter “B”.
England, East Anglia, ca. 1450
English glazing programs from this period often included representations of the nine orders of angels. Cherubim were usually shown wearing feathered cloaks like the one shown here.
Saint John the Evangelist with the Cup of Poison and Serpents
German, possibly from the Cathedral of Saint Peter, Trier, ca. 1520
Saint Michael and Donor
French, Normandy (or possibly Paris), ca. 1500
The donor who kneels before his patron saint is most likely of royal lineage since the shield held by Saint Michael displays the royal fleurs-de-lis of France.
The donor and the heraldic device on his shield are unidentified. The small angels playing musical instruments are typical of late Norman windows.
The figures are enclosed in a superbly painted niche of grisaille and silver stain. The costumes reveal richly brocaded material. The extraordinary richness of background and architectural details is characteristic of Norman glass.
Saint Roch, the van Merle Family Arms, and a Donor
The woman depicted here as the donor may be a posthumous representation of Gudula van Merle who died in the plague in 1502. Saint Roch, the pilgrim saint who was actively involved against the disease, stands behind her. It is thought that this window was part of the glazing of a private chapel.
A Knight and His Patron Saint, Saint Bernard and Donors, A Bishop and His patron Saint, and A Lady and her Patron Saint
All from a Cistercian church at Maria Wald SW of Cologne,
Joseph’s Brethren Discover Money in Their Grain Sacks
French, Normandy, Rouen (?) ca. 1530
Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt to buy corn when famine plagued their homeland. They failed to realize that their brother Joseph, whom they had sold many years before, was now governor. In his attempt to evaluate his brothers, whom Joseph recognizes, he accuses them of spying and imprisons them. After three days he releases them and allows them to buy the much needed corn. On the way home from Egypt they discover the money they thought they had spent for the corn is now in their sacks of grain. (This image depicts the moment of their discovery.)They are afraid they will now be accused of theft. They return to Egypt and, leaving Simeon as surety, agree to return with their youngest brother, Benjamin. They return with him and return the money. This time Joseph’s cup is found in Benjamin’s bag. Upon returning the cup, Joseph reveals his identity to them and the brothers are reunited and forgiven.
French (Paris), ca. 1550
Kneeling in prayer, Mary raises her hand in surprise as Gabriel informs her that she will be the mother of the Messiah. Gabriel’s opening salutation “Hail Mary, Full of Grace” is partially inscribed in Latin on the scroll above her. The composition and the classicized figures were derived from a well known work by Raphael (1483-1520). The New York architect Stanford White (1853-1906) added the inscription on the bottom of the Gabriel panel.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is a wonderful museum, a treasury of works spanning over 5,000 years from cultures throughout the world. One can spend days there awed and amazed at the scope and quality of their collection. In my time at the 5th Avenue building, I focused on their collection of Medieval and later glass. (The American glass is for another blog.) Although I did not get to the Cloisters (the Met’s separate building devoted to Medieval art), the glass on display, along with other wonderful objects and sculpture from the period, not to mention the paintings, provided me with several hours of wonder and delight. I love being able to share just some of what I saw with you. I learned a lot about these panels and I hope you have as well. When one realizes that the earliest glass fragments and intact panels we have are from around 1100, the objects I have shared with you must be appreciated as extremely rare and precious. We are very lucky to have them and to be able to see them preserved, restored and up close. I hope you enjoyed this walk through the Met’s early stained glass collection as much as I did. You can leave your admission stickers here.