Stained Glass Gems from England
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church- Florence, Oregon
Visitors to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Florence, Oregon are greeted by a set of fine stained glass panels, most likely made in the second half of the 19th century. A couple of clues contained in the central panel may help to someday fill in the story of their English origins.
The panels are neatly installed in a single wooden frame, though it is partitioned.
The left- and right-hand panels share a common style; the taller center window is distinctly different.
Looking at the full set
The central composition has a rich color scheme masterfully rendered. Such a window is the product of various members of a studio carrying out their distinct jobs of design, glass painting, glass firing and assembly.
The panels to the left and right are the same size, and are well-composed scenes of good works being performed. The glass painting is light in tone and in some places appears to be not fully adhered to the glass, a technical imperfection. These panels have the feel of a smaller and less specialized team at work, or perhaps a solo crafter.
It is likely that the windows were once installed in a church in England.
Another possibility is that the panels were made for a specific church but, for some reason, never installed.
We’ll look at the central window and then the left- and right-hand pair of panels.
The center window
The central window, installed as three stacked panels, features Saint Cecilia, patron saint of music; the banner in the lower right names her. Her rich blue robes and the central position of the organ attracts ones gaze.
Individual angels play a bowed instrument, cymbals, a horn and a lyre.The other angels may represent a choir.
One holds a banner reading “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Might this refer to the hymn of the same name composed by Reginald Heber in 1861?
The window was made by Abbott & Co. Ltd., founded by the glazier and plumber William Abbott in 1860. William died in 1904 but the firm continued, led by his son and grandson. I see no evidence that the firm still exists.
The book Aspects of Lancaster has a section written by Suzanne Boutin titled The Rise and Fall of the Stained Glass Trade in Nineteenth Century Lancaster that features a photo of the studio and a list of some projects.
A Lancashire Guardian article in 2016 is about the designs from the firm being preserved by the The Business Archives Council, “a charity which aims to promote the preservation of business records of historical importance.”
Details of the central window
The side panels
The theme of these matching panels is from Matthew 35:25. The passages tell of one granted entrance to heaven by the practice of good works.
We see a figure who, by the richness of his clothing, appears to be of an upper class handing bread to a woman and her children dressed more simply.
The plants create an outdoor setting. The encounter seems to be along a street; the architectural details suggest a porch or portico.
These panels do not possess the technical perfection of the central window.
The style is Pre-Raphaelite, indicated more by the countenances and body types than any other aspect of the compositions. A group calling itself the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, composed of painters, poets and critics, was founded in 1848. Its principles were adopted by others, and the influence extended into the 20th century.
This right-hand panel is set in an interior, the ailing person on a canopied bed, an arched window in the background.
The foremost figure is reading from a book; the gesture suggests that some sort of blessing is being given. A woman in the background is in attendance.
The Pre-Raphaelites’ work has a romantic and dramatic quality. They felt that something had been lost with the painterly perfection of Raphael (born 1483), whose life extended into the early 16th century, thus their adopted name.
They found inspiration in 14th and early 15th century Italian artists. Mostly an English movement, their work sometimes evokes a gallant age.
The Condition of the Windows
I learned of these windows when asked to report on their condition; the overall condition is very good.
The center window shows no problems.The left- and right-hand panels have a few cracked panels and have deteriorated over time, caused more by technical problems in the way they were made than by lack of care or maintenance.
The stained glass is mounted at the interior of the church; the exterior glazing is typical insulated glass units. Protected by the exterior glass from rain, wind and vandalism, there is little to affect the stained glass panels if their structure is sound and support bars used traditionally to add strength are in position.
The original support bars are not in place. This is not a big factor at this time, as there is a sound structure to the panels and exposure to the elements is minimal.
I need to make another visit to the church to document the evidence of the missing support bars and to consider whether the installation in the current frame is adequate or if adding support bars at some point is advisable.
The windows share typical stained glass techniques. Sheets of colored glass are cut to a pattern—a “cartoon”—and these are assembled in lead channel. Joints are soldered together.
Prior to assembly, the glass painter, working with paints that may be brown or black, adds line detail and shading. A warm reddish-brown might be used for a European skin-tone. The individual pieces of glass are fired in a kiln. When properly fired, the painted detail is permanent.
Another painting technique, silver stain, is employed in these windows. Compounds of silver, when applied to the glass and fired, develop a range of tones anywhere from a pale lemon yellow to a deep amber. The stain is fired at a lower temperature than the glass paints, and so is applied after the other painting is completed. Most commonly the stain is applied to the back of the glass, the side opposite the painting.
Glass painting details
We can see the refined technique of the glass painter in this close-up of St. Cecilia. The halo, head, neck, collar and most of the hair are all one piece of glass. The halo features a dark paint and a light yellow silver stain. The hair is more heavily painted and a darker stain is used.
The typical technique for painting a head is to first paint the heavy lines. Firing these details clarifies where to add the shading, which is done by adding a wash of paint which is stippled. Further selective stippling and other paint removal techniques bring out the highlighted areas of the forehead, the cheeks, the bridge of the nose and the chin.
Painting on the side panels
Looking at the right-hand panel, we can see that the painting does not have as wide a range of values from dark to light as the center window. The hair is handled in a simpler manner, and there is not the same level of detailed shading on the faces.
Still, the robes are nicely done, not only the painted and stained lighter robe, but also the purple and gold parts.
The figures are more active and engaged with each other than in the posed figures of the central window.
Appreciating some details
The wings of the angels form a colorful area matching the richness of Saint Cecilia’s clothing. Rich reds, pinks and purples are among the more expensive colors of glass.
The subtle gradations of the wings’ colors are the result of sophisticated technique, perhaps created at the stage when the glassblower made the glass sheet or, I think more likely, using an acid etching technique to produce the transitions.
Many fine effects of the glass painting are evident in this detail, such as the rendering of the instrument and the folds and ornament of the robes.
The technical deficiencies of the side panels have to do with the glass painting, though the problem may be in the kiln-firing of the glass rather than the painting itself.
It shows in the flaking and fading of the lettering on the panels, and has the weirdest effect in the attendant’s face in the right-hand panel. The facial features that are whitest would have, logically, been painted dark, but the paint appears to have flaked off. The face looks almost like a photographic negative. If the glass is not fired hot enough, it will not bond fully to the glass.
What makes the style of the side panels Pre-Raphaelite? To me, the facial features are the main indicators.
London’s Tate Gallery has a short and entertaining children’s information page, where the figures by Edward Burne-Jones have faces and lanky bodies reminiscent of those depicted in the glass panels. The article mentions the use of symbols, and these are features of the robes in both panels. Burne-Jones was a prolific designer of stained glass, though I haven’t seen any of his designs that link directly to the themes of the two side panels at St. Andrew’s.
What of the ideal of beauty one sees in the countenances? A very popular model was Jane Morris (née Burden), who was married to William Morris, a leader of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Jane Morris modeled often for Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I offer some images below to make my case of the link of the glass panels to the Pre-Raphaelites.
My sense is that whoever made the stained glass side panels was greatly influenced by this artistic group.
Examples of Pre-Raphaelite Artworks
What is the “style” of the central window?
The hallmark of the central window is a highly skilled rendering of all the elements, a cool perfection. There is a wide range of values from dark to light. The angels’ wings, the instruments, the robes and the faces and the ornamental details of the window are well done. The painting was entrusted to someone who, I would guess, did very well at art school, learning the techniques and tricks of the old masters.
Among these masters were the artists of the High Renaissance, artists who had unlocked the secrets of perspective and naturalistic rendering. There was never a school of painting called Raphaelite, but Raphael was the artist who attained the level of perfection to which so many artists of the time trained and aspired.
For all its skillful depiction, if anything is missing in the central panel it is engagement between the characters. Each seems carefully composed, but in a sort of bubble, this sense accentuated by the halos around each.
So there we have it, two sets of windows whose production were probably around the same time, one window with a Raphaelite sensibility, and the others evoking the work of the Pre-Raphaelites.
With not a lot of evidence to go on, I am guessing that the windows were made in the 1880’s or 1890’s.
It is my hope that church records and parishioners’ knowledge will add to what we know about the provenance of these windows. Perhaps investigation will bring to light more information about the organist and choirmaster John S. Warburton.
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