Recently, Michael Strong, the Abbey Museum’s Senior Curator and I headed north to Belli Park to meet with stained glass conservators Gerry Cummins and Jill Stehn. Gerry and Jill have been involved with the Museum’s stained glass conservation program for over ten years now. These two extraordinarily talented artisans have been responsible for the conservation of nearly all of the Museum’s medieval, Victorian and Edwardian stained glass collection.
As you may be aware, in 2017 we completed the conservation of all the stained glass windows housed in the Abbey Church. These windows include medieval panels from Winchester Cathedral and also the mortuary chapel of the Shirley family manor house in Ettington. There is a splendid panel of God the Father, believed to be from the Charter House of St Barbara in Cologne and a very fine Winged Ox and a Winged Lion from Heckenrode Abbey in Belgium. If you would like to have a tour of these beautiful windows the Abbey Museum runs guided tours on Tuesday and Thursday at 11.00 am or for groups by appointment.
A Magi and a Musketeer
Last year the focus of our conservation program was the windows in the Abbey Museum. These included a 16th century colourful depiction of Balthazar, one of the Magi at Jesus’s nativity, from Germany. It can be seen above the entrance door of the Museum. Another small panel on display inside the Museum, again from Germany, features a rather dashing musketeer. Completion of these two panels mean that all our stained glass windows that are currently in situ has now been conserved. A huge and wonderful effort. Thank you to all our donors who have contributed to history.
Stained Glass in Storage
Our focus has now turned to panels and fragments that are currently in storage, which includes the remaining Winchester glass not on display, heraldic panels and a delightful small panel depicting a female saint. The latter has now been completed and our conservators have started work on our next panel which depicts a heraldic devise with two supporter putti. According to the original catalogue this panel depicts the coat of arms of Catherine of Aragon; however, this has still to be confirmed.
The next panel in the pipeline for conservation is that of a spikey winged angel, or more the point, the head and wings of a spikey winged angel originally from the clerestory of Winchester Cathedral. We have excellent provenance and parallels for this panel as there are remaining examples of these multi-winged seraphim in Winchester Cathedral. We will have more information on this incredible treasure as work continues. However we know from the work of Anya Heilpern, who has done her thesis on the glass at Winchester, that it is earlier than the Lady Chapel panels, dating from c1390-1430.
Stained Glass Conservation Studio Visit
Our visit to the Cummins/Stehn studio was to look at the progress of the Aragon coat of arms panel, review proposed plans for the Winchester seraphim panel and the remaining panels and fragments which will see the completion of our Stained Glass conservation project. Wow! It is hard to imagine that the end is in sight. While we still need to raise the funds for the remaining work at least we are now clear as to what is needed. Determining the best conservation treatment of such important historical glass is a big responsibility and requires in-depth discussion and considered decision making.
One of the exciting suggestions from our conservators was to recreate the complete panel of the Winchester seraphim. This is because we have such quality examples and we now know exactly where our angel fits into the original design. We have also found amongst the fragments bits of a wheel on which the seraphim stands. It is too good an opportunity to miss and while it adds to the overall cost of the panel conservation it was agreed it would be well worth the effort. If you would like to donate to this exciting project, please click here.
Other panels to be conserved include a shield with an engrailed cross from Lincolns Inn, and four panels of fragments originally from Winchester Cathedral. While one panel is almost complete, the other three require total reconstruction. It was decided that one very fine head of a golden haired saint would be made into a small feature panel that could be included in a museum display. Finally two trefoil panels, including one depicting a head of a king, were to be retained in their current shape ready for installation into a future display or window.
While the completion of these panels may still be a couple of years off, I would like to acknowledge and thank Gerry Cummins and Jill Stehn for their dedication to best practice and dogged commitment to matching the quality, colour and detail of the medieval artisans.