Reading Stained Glass: Easter Day by Adrian Barlow

These days most people, if they associate Coventry with stained glass at all, think of John Piper’s great Baptistry window. And rightly, for it was the first, and I believe remains the finest, modern abstract window in any British cathedral. But the city has a distinguished tradition of stained glass, going back to the 15th century, when John Thornton was the pre-eminent English stained glass artist. He and his workshop created the enormous East window of York Minster, while at the same time continuing to fill the churches of Coventry with stained glass promoting the city as a place of culture, wealth and civic pride. Much of this celebrated glass adorned St Michael’s Church, the former Cathedral, until hurriedly taken out and stored as loose fragments in 1939 when war loomed. Unlike the Cathedral itself, most survived the war, but only recently has the scale and importance of this forgotten treasure begun to be appreciated again. Some of the glass has already been restored and a small amount is on display in the …

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Reading Stained Glass: Good Friday by Adrian Barlow

When I was a child, I was fascinated by a picture that hung in my father’s study. It was (as I learned much later) a Baxter Print of Rubens’ Descent from the Cross, (1612-14; fig.i) and I wish I had it now, for images of the Deposition – its alternative name – have a long history in stained glass, going back at least to the 12th century. None, though, are quite like Rubens’ altarpiece. Rubens’ tableau has no fewer than five men, four ladders, three women, and the magnificently athletic but pallid corpse of the dead Jesus being lowered into the arms of John, the beloved disciple. To help take the backbreaking strain, St. John has placed his right foot onto the second rung of a ladder. In accordance with tradition, he is dressed in a red robe, while Mary is already in deep mourning. Joseph of Arimathea, swathed in a huge cloak and wearing a red bonnet, looks more like a Venetian magnifico than a member of the Sanhedrin. He holds one end …

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Reading Stained Glass: Maundy Thursday by Adrian Barlow

The first of three posts discussing ways in which the events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day have been depicted in stained glass from the 12thcentury onwards.I am interested in the different ways stained glass artists have portrayed Judas. Sometimes he is shown almost as a pantomime figure – black faced, even black haloed – clutching a moneybag. In the E window of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, the Last Supper (1874; fig. i) is cast in an almost lurid light: yellow and black tiled floor, benches even brighter than the brass dishes on the table.  Around this table Jesus and the twelve disciples form a tight circle. Jesus sits in the centre, St John, the beloved disciple, leaning his head on Christ’s right shoulder; St Peter, tonsured according to tradition, sits on his left. The faces of the twelve, offset by the whiteness of their haloes, are variously perplexed, apprehensive or reflective. With one exception: Judas, the man in green with his back to us, has no halo. Scowling and with …

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