Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Kansas City, Missouri



Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

  Stained-Glass  from the 13th -16th Centuries

in the

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art


The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art  in Kansas City, Missouri hosts an outstanding collection of  European and  North American painting and sculpture, as well as treasures from China, India, and Africa. Within its collection of sculpture, painting, and religious objects from Medieval Europe is a group of stained-glass windows that date from the 13th through the 16th centuries. Although these stained-glass panels are not located in a religious institution now, they most certainly were before they were moved from their original locations and found their way to Kansas City. I hope you enjoy looking at them and learning a bit about their subject matter as much as I have.


The Life of Saint Catherine of Alexandria (ca. 1270, possibly 14th century)

 Provenance is unknown

Life of St. Catherine of Alexandria French ca.1270

Life of St. Catherine of Alexandria, French ca.1270

According to legend, Saint Catherine was the daughter of a 4th century AD governor of Egypt. By age 15 she had mastered math, astronomy and philosophy. Her father secured seven learned masters and constructed a tower for the pursuit of her studies. The tower is often pictured as one of her attributes.  It is said that she converted to Christianity as a very young woman.  This window depicts principal episodes of her life.

St Catherine and a Hermit From the Life of St. Catherine of Alexandria ca.1270

St Catherine and a Hermit From the Life of St. Catherine of Alexandria ca.1270

The top medallion shows her seated before a hermit who foretold her mystical marriage to Christ.  Her tower appears as an architectural feature in the background.

The Debate: From the Life of St. Catherine of Alexandria ca.1270

The Debate: From the Life of St. Catherine of Alexandria ca.1270

The central roundel depicts her disputing with the Emperor Maxentius along with 50 of his most learned scholars whom she confounded with her arguments for Christianity. Many of those who disputed with her ultimately converted to Christianity and were put to death by Maxentius.

Maxentius offered himself in marriage to her if she would renounce her faith. She refused, saying she was already married to Jesus Christ. She was placed in prison, where she was visited by over two hundred of Maxentius’s soldiers and even Maxentius’s wife. When they all converted, Maxentius had them put to death.

St.Catherine and the Instrument of her Martyrdom ca.1270

St.Catherine and the Instrument of her Martyrdom ca.1270

The lower medallion illustrates her martyrdom.  She is shown in a swoon tied to the spiked wheel designed to tear her apart. The wheel is said to have broken when she touched it. She was subsequently beheaded. The spiked wheel is another of her attributes and frequently depicted in images of her.

On the side are half medallions showing Noah sending a dove from the ark, sinners delivered into hell, the baptism of Christ, and St. John bringing the lamb to Jerusalem. Above the main panels two medallions enclose the Dove of the Holy Spirit and a Star of David, symbols of the New and Old Testaments.

According to  legend, Saint Catherine was one of the voices heard by St. Joan of Arc. As one of the most revered virgin martyrs, she became one of the most important saints in the religious culture of the Middle Ages. “Discovery” of her burial place at Mt. Sinai in Egypt around the year 800, stimulated the creation of shrines and pilgrimage sites throughout the Middle East and Europe. A virgin martyr, a scholar, and an effective debater, she became revered as the patron saint of philosophers, preachers, students, teachers, librarians, and lawyers. She is the patron saint of knowledge and learning.


Saint John the Evangelist


(late 14th or early 15th century)

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Saint John the Evangelist, the youngest of the twelve apostles, is shown holding a chalice from which small serpents crawl.  According to legend, the priest of the temple of Diana of Ephesus forced John to prove his Christian faith by drinking from a cup containing poisonous venom. John survived the ordeal and proceeded to revive two men who had earlier drunk the lethal potion. John’s triumph over the power of the serpent was regarded as a victory over the Devil himself, since it was in the guise of a snake that Satan successfully tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The intricate ornamentation on Saint John’s crown includes elements of Gothic architecture such as tre-foil shaped, or the three lobed arches.


Scene from the Infancy of Christ Cycle: The Nativity (1460-1480)

France (From the church in Loisy-en-Brie) Stained and painted glass

The two scenes from the Infancy of Christ Cycle, as well as the Crucifixion window from the Passion of Christ (see below), all come from the church in Loisy-en-Brie in northeastern France and were part of two large stained-glass decorative programs in the church.

The Nativity ca. 1460-80 France

The Nativity ca. 1460-80 France

Scene from the Infancy of Christ Cycle: Adoration and Gifts of the Magi   (1460-1480) 

France (From the church in Loisy-en-Brie) Stained and painted glass

The Adoration of the Magi (ca. 1460-80) France

The Adoration of the Magi (ca. 1460-80) France

Detail from the Adoration of the Magi ca. 1460-80 France

The Nativity ca. 1460-80 France

Scene from the Passion of Christ: The Crucifixion (1460-1480)

France (From the church in Loisy-en-Brie) Stained and painted glass

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The Crucifixion panel shows Christ on the cross with two angels on either side of him. Mary is to his right.  John is to his left. John’s hand is raised to his head in a gesture of mourning. He is holding a book that represents his writings. Mary Magdalene is kneeling at the foot of the cross.


 God the Father

France (Strasbourg) 15th Century

Stained and painted glass

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God the Father,  France 15th Century

Detail from God the Fathe r

Detail from God the Father

Like paintings of the period, 15th century stained-glass windows assumed many shapes and sizes. One of the most common shapes for religious subjects was the roundel. This example shows God the Father floating among clouds in the company of three angels. He raises two fingers of his right hand in a gesture of blessing, and in his left hand he holds an orb, symbolic of his sovereignty over the world. This window represents a transitional period in the art of stained glass, during which smaller individual pieces of glass ceased to form the design of the window: the design was achieved by applying painted details onto larger pieces of glass.


Virgin and Child, 16th Century

French or Flemish

Stained and painted glass




The Virgin, crowned as the Queen of Heaven cradles the Christ Child in her arm. In her right hand she holds an apple, symbol of Christ’s future mission as the Redeemer of mankind from Original Sin. Christ reaches toward the fruit while holding an orb symbolizing His divine sovereignty. Several areas in the window are rendered in transparent yellow pigment. This color was achieved by painting a solution of silver oxide on clear glass which became a permanent yellow stain when fired. Details were then painted on to the stain with black enamel to indicate such things as the curls of the Virgin’s long blonde hair, the Virgin’s crown and the detailed foliate background.


Apostles and Prophets with Articles of the Creed

France or Germany Ca. 1510

Stained and painted glass

Possibly from a private chapel in Troyes, France

Apostles and Prophets with the Articles of the Creed France or G

Apostles and Prophets with the Articles of the Creed France or Germany ca. 1510

Each of the eight panels in these two stained -glass windows pairs a New and Old Testament individual, such as Saint Peter holding his attribute, the key to heaven, and the Prophet Jeremiah. The New Testament figures are identified by their robes while Old Testament figures are wearing Medieval clothing. The early church associated the words of each apostle with those of an Old Testament prophet. The Apostles Creed, represented by the scrolls with Latin inscriptions, was written by the apostles just before they dispersed to preach the Gospel. Text on the scrolls also includes words of the Ave Maria.


St Peter and Prophet Jeremiah

St Peter and Prophet Jeremiah

St. Andrew and King David

St. Andrew and King David


St.Thomas and Prophet Hosea

St. Thomas and Prophet Hosea

St. Matthew and the Prophet Micha

St. Matthew and the Prophet Micha

St. dominic and the Virgin and Child

St. Dominic and the Virgin and Child


St. Philip and the Prophet Sophonias

St. Philip and the Prophet Sophonias


St. James the Greater and the Prophet Isaiah

St. James the Greater and the Prophet Isaiah


St. Jude and the Prophet Daniel

St. Jude and the Prophet Daniel

The light grey (uncolored) and often painted grisaille glass offered an alternative to the use of colored glass in the entire window. It allowed more light into the space and was more economical as well. Of course, it provided the important design element of a lighter background enhancing the deeply colored main figures. Note how the pattern on the grisaille is different in each panel.

The Apostles’ Creed

The Apostles’ Creed is a brief statement of the fundamental Christian beliefs. According to tradition, the Apostles’ Creed was handed down from the Apostles themselves.  However, it is likely that it was first written down sometime after the Apostolic age.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

The Ave Maria

 The “Ave Maria” is one of the essential prayers of the Christian Church.The text is historically divided in three parts:

  • The first portion consists of the opening salutation of the Angel Gabriel with which he greeted the Blessed Virgin on the day of the Annunciation (Luke 1:28).
  • The second part is the divinely inspired greeting of St. Elizabeth uttered during the Visitation. (Luke 1:42).
  • The third and final portion, the addition of the holy name and the final petition for intercession, first appeared c. 1440 with Bernadine of Sienna and was fixed in this present form by Pope Pius V in the Breviary of 1568.
Latin text English text
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.

Beneedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, Ora pro nobis, peccatoribus,  Nunc et in hora mortis nostrae.  Amen.

Hail Mary, full of grace, The Lord is with you.

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, mother of God, Pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death. Amen.

St John the Baptist and a Nobleman c.1500

Stained and painted glass.




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In these two panels are two full-length standing figures. On the left, St. John holds a lamb, his traditional attribute, symbolic of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Camel hair shows below his cloak, common in representations of this saint. On the right is a nobleman dressed in robes of the time, holding a pink carnation, possibly commemorating his betrothal.   He may be a religious figure or the patron of these stained-glass windows.


Heraldic Panel with the  Arms of Anthon  Van Ramstein  

 Late 15th Century  1470-1482

Church of  Lautenbach in Germany near the French border, near Strasbourg


This window depicts the kneeling Anton Van Ramstein, possibly a patron of the church,  dressed in armor with his coat of arms.

Windows like this were often commissioned by affluent members of the middle class as a symbol of their social or political status.

This window is from a series of 40 windows commissioned from the Peter Hemmel workshop in the 1470’s and installed in this church in 1482. Most of the windows remain there today. Hemmel presided over the leading stained-glass workshop of southern Germany, and the numerous windows he exported to other European countries often served as models for other workshops.




 Saint Eleutherius of Tournai Baptizing Converts


ca. 1500-25

St. Eleutherius of Tournai Baptizing Converts ca. 1500-25 Flemish

St. Eleutherius of Tournai Baptizing Converts ca. 1500-25 Flemish


Saint Eleutherius (436-531) was the first bishop of the Diocese of Tournai, in northern France. Few details of his life are known, but legend maintains that he was a zealous preacher who converted many Northern Europeans to Christianity. Identified by his cope (ecclesiastical robe) and mitre (liturgical headdress), Saint Eleutherius is seen here baptizing several converts.

This window is part of a series commissioned for the cathedral of Tournai from the  workshop of Arnold of Nijmegen, in the Netherlands. A considerable amount of grisaille (painting in black on clear glass to produce images in shades of grey) was used to render the compositions sophisticated architectural details. This technique was used in late Gothic windows to allow more light to pass through the glass into the church interiors.


Saint Similien Bishop of Nantes

15th Century Stained and painted glass France, Brittany


Saint Similien, who died in 310 CE,  was the third bishop of Nantes. Here he is standing wearing his mitre and cape and holding a crozier in his hand.

I am indebted to the Nelson-Atkins’ excellent curatorial notes, wall panels, and informative labels, which I have used liberally  in this blog. The wonder of a great museum is that it enables us to transport ourselves across hundreds of years and thousands of miles in order that we might appreciate and be moved by the work of designers and artisans who lived long ago and very far away. When I consider the fragile nature of these stained-glass panels, and periods of social upheaval, wars, and natural disasters through which they have survived, I am deeply appreciative of being able to benefit from the Nelson’s stewardship and conservation of these wonderful objects.

And, oh yes, If you ever come to the Nelson, be sure to take a few minutes to enjoy  the Rozzelle Court Restaurant. The Key Lime Pie is a masterpiece.








2 Responses to Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Kansas City, Missouri

  1. Pingback: Early Stained Glass in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri | Inspired Glass

  2. Pingback: Early Stained Glass in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art | Inspired Glass

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