Harriet M. Sonne

title.none: Caviness, Stained Glass Windows (Sonne)

identifier.other: baj9928.9901.007 99.01.07

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Harriet M. Sonne, University of Toronto,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Caviness, Madeline Harrison. Stained Glass Windows. Typologie des sources du Moyen Âge occidentalfasc. 76. Turnhout: Brepols, 1996. Pp.86. ISBN: 2-503-36000-9, 2-503-36076-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.01.07

Caviness, Madeline Harrison. Stained Glass Windows. Typologie des sources du Moyen Âge occidentalfasc. 76. Turnhout: Brepols, 1996. Pp.86. ISBN: 2-503-36000-9, 2-503-36076-9.

Reviewed by:

Harriet M. Sonne
University of Toronto

In this slim volume of 86 pages, entitled simply Stained Glass Windows, Madeline H. Caviness makes a valuable contribution to the well-known series, Typologie des Sources du Moyen Age Occidental. The present volume is an introduction to the scholarship and development of stained glass from ca. 500 to 1480. Except for the section listing the Corpus Vitrearum publications in different countries, the monograph is restricted primarily to English and French works from the 12th to the 15th centuries. The general format and approach adopted by the author is in keeping with previous monographs from this series. In the past twenty years, we have all benefited from the late Léopold Genicot's efforts to produce a series of readable and informative monographs on specialized subjects for scholars working in the field of medieval studies. The aim has been to provide an overview of the state of scholarship on selected topics which, in the past, have dealt mainly with textual sources in the fields of liturgy, theology and literature. Topics selected from the field of art history have been rare. Caviness's text on stained glass painting, a field of study that she so aptly describes as "the least well-understood body of art historical material available for analysis" (8), makes a welcome addition for all, especially, art historians and architectural historians.

There is no one more qualified to present an overview of current scholarship in the field of stained glass studies than Madeline H. Caviness. Her work as a scholar on the subject and as former president of the Corpus Vitrearum, is well- known.[1] From her early work on the stained glass of Canterbury Cathedral in England to her more recent work on royal abbeys in Reims and Braine in France, she has constantly tried to broaden our understanding of stained and painted glass as the "major medium of monumental painting in European lands north of the Alps and Pyranees [sic] in the high middle ages." (8) The present volume is no exception to her past efforts.

The volume contains an acknowledgement, a foreward, five chapters divided into further sub-sections, a selective index and eight black and white illustrations. One of the first points the author makes in the acknowledgements is the generous assistance of several individuals, like Yvette Vanden Bemden, Secretary of the International Board of the Corpus Vitrearum, and Laura Good, former assistant to the American Corpus Vitrearum (New England office), who helped to compile the up-to-date lists of publications and work-in- progress for the Corpus Vitrearum project in Chapter I. Indeed, this section is one of the more valuable assets of the present volume.

In the foreword, the author makes both her intentions and limitations clear. It is her hope that this volume will "ensure that glass is better understood, and the wealth of information encoded in it made more accessible to a whole range of scholars of the middle ages." (9) The author admits up front that for, the sake of brevity and her familiarity with the subject, discussions are limited primarily to English and French examples, but adds that further examples from other regions are listed in the bibliographies. The first chapter, "Publications", is divided into four sections: (A) Bibliographies, (B) Manuscript Sources (watercolors and notes), (C) General Bibliography, (D) Corpus Vitrearum Publications. This 29-page section is by-far the most substantial part of the publication. The introduction to Chapter I emphasizes the strengths and limitations of various bibliographies and indexes listed in section (A). It notes the standard journal indexes used for art history and the specialized sources for stained glass, providing an excellent overview of important resources for neophytes. Section (B), Manuscript Sources (watercolors and notes), as the author notes, offers a cursory introduction to a few historical sources in England and France. It is a valuable section, not so much for its comprehensiveness, but for the way in which the author exposes the types of manuscript sources that could offer additional information for scholars. Section (C), the General Bibliography is limited "to studies on stained glass that dates [sic] before about 1480" (11) and is focused primarily on English, French and German scholarship. There are a few isolated references to work being done in the Netherlands, Spain and Italy, but no acknowledgement of scholarship in Eastern Europe or in Scandinavia. However, the General Bibliography gives a good update on material published in the author's field of specialty since her first bibliography published in 1982.[2]

The most valuable part of Chapter I, especially for scholars already working in the field of stained glass, is section (D), entitled Corpus Vitrearum Publications. The author notes "for the sake of completeness all Corpus Vitrearum publications are included here." (12) This includes publications dealing with 16th and 17th century stained glass. The section begins by listing the general publications by the international organization, the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi. This is followed a list of the catalogues published in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Scandinavia, Spain, Switzerland and the United States. This section is well organized, informative, distinguishing between volumes planned, in preparation and those that have alredy been published. Readers should be aware, however, that some of the volumes listed as being in preparation have now been published, but with slightly different titles and series numbers. A future update on the status of these publications would be helpful.

Chapter II, entitled "Nature and Development of the Medium", concentrates on the use of stained glass in ecclesiastic buildings and how its use developed up to the 14th century in various regions of the Continent (39-44). The author describes its early origins and sporadic use in southern Europe prior to the 11th century, but notes that in northern Europe the opposite was true and explains that an important tradition of glass painting existed in the German Empire from the 9th to the 11th centuries. The chapter concludes with several brief, nondescript summaries on its development in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries.

Chapter III, "Techniques of Making a Window in the Period 500- 1480", is subdivided into eleven sections (45-57): (1) The Peculiar Qualities of Stained Glass, (2) The Medieval Manuals, (3) Pot Metal and Flashed Glasses, (4) Design, (5) Glass Cutting, (6) Painting, (7) Firing the Paint, (8) Colors Produced with the Help of the Kiln, (9) Sorting, (10) Leading, and (11) Structural Supports and Glazing. Using simple language and a straight-forward approach, Caviness demystifies the process of making stained glass. The author systematically discusses each step of the process in a clearly written manner. In Chapter III, Caviness stresses the importance of understanding the methods of manufacturing stained glass "in the middle ages in order to assess its authenticity." (45) But it soon becomes evident that her analysis of the various stages of stained glass making reveals other equally important reasons why the techniques of making stained glass should be understood. In section (2), entitled "The Medieval Manuals", the author introduces the medieval manual De Diversis Artibus, a series of three books written by a German monk known by the pseudonym "Theophilus". The second book is devoted exclusively to the production of stained glass (46). At each stage references to Theophilus's text provide a background and, at the same time, a point of departure for further insights. As the author points out, his instructions for building different types of kilns at the different stages, confirms, along with archaeological evidence, the on-site manufacture of stained glass. Theophilus's explanations for the use of a sized board ( tabula lignea) as patterns for designing the layout of the stained glass windows are supported by the survival of a setting table from Gerona and the way in which illuminators used the same methods seen in the 12th century Capuchin's Bible (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, Ms. lat. 16743-46) (50). Clearly, the understanding of how stained glass was produced has broader implications for art historians working in other mediums.

Chapter IV, entitled "Reception and Documentation", is divided into five sections. In section (1) Medieval Attitudes to Stained Glass, the author touches on the anagogical, allegorical and pedagogical attitudes as expressed by such well-known authors as Abbot Suger when discussing the Saint- Denis windows, Durandus of Mende and Ades de Chateauroux (canon of Bourges c. 1230) in a sermon preserved at Assisi (59). The next two sections, (2) Iconophabia and Iconoclasm, and (3) Post-Reformation Damage to Glass, address the destruction stained glass windows have suffered in England and France from the 12th century through to the Napoleonic raids in the 18th century (62-63). Section (4) The Gothic Revival and Medievalism (1840-1940), describes the important role Goethe's theories of color around the year 1800 had on changing the aesthetic appreciation for stained glass windows and how the rise of nationalism initiated government assistance in the preservation of national monuments and, with them, stained glass (65-67). Especially noteworthy was the work that was being done in France by scholars such as Peres Cahier and Martin. In the last section of this chapter, (5) Post world War II Documentation: The Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi, the author outlines how this international project evolved after the Second War in the year 1953 with the support of the Comité International d'Histoire de l'Art and went on to establish international standards and directives for the preservation and scholarship of stained glass (67-69). In addition to providing location, dimensions of each panel, information about the inscriptions, heraldry and iconography, the catalogue descriptions also provide readers with information on where the repositories for photographic negatives are and how to order prints. Whenever the opportunity permits, the author emphasizes the important role the project Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi plays in the study of stained glass windows.

The last section of the book, Chapter V, "The Historical Significance of Windows" has six sections: (1) Patrons and Donors of Windows, (2) The Economics of Glass-Painting vs. Social Exchange, (3) Workshops, (4) Technology and Trade, (5) Texts and Images, and (6) Decoding Meanings: Windows as Texts. In keeping with her opening statement that stained glass windows represents one of the least understood bodies of art historical material for analysis, Caviness emphasizes the "historical" value of inscriptions, techniques, donor imagery, costumes and heraldry. In an effort to extend the traditional methods of art historical analysis, Caviness, instead, suggests that the finished product, the "raw glass can provide information."(70) The author warns, however, that a degree of caution should be applied when dating a window to the lifetime of a donor. In some cases windows served as memorials and hence provide, instead, a terminus ante quem. Care must also be taken when dating windows by costumes, furnishings, tools and other items for frequently they were generalized and abbreviated in symbolic ways. The author notes that images of donors raise intriguing questions about the interactive role of patron, artisan, advisor and that of the Church. The stained glass itself often provides information about the organization of the workshops and the literacy and origins of the artisans. In the section on workshops Caviness cites several authors and summarizes various points of view emerging in this field of study. Further references supplement a relatively brief summary in section (4) on Technology and Trade. A growing body of research on the chemical composition of stained glass is providing historians with information about medieval trade. In the late sixties, concerns for the rapid deterioration of stained glass due to pollution and exposure to the elements shifted historical studies to the conservation and preservation of stained glass.

In the last two sections of Chapter V, (5) Texts and Images, and (6) Decoding Meanings: Windows as Texts, the author briefly touches on the historical importance of inscriptions, the connections between images and texts, the iconographic significance of images without texts, and the significance of the different contexts of stained glass windows (architectonic, pictorial programs and narratives, theological programs). The literature available on these areas is extensive, so it is disappointing to see so few references to work in these fields. Perhaps the sheer quantity of material imposed restrictions on what the author felt was appropriate for this particular text. In any case, scholars persuing information about these areas would be well advised to consult other texts and bibliographies as well.

This is a brief summary of a highly selective coverage of the study of stained glass windows. Keeping in mind the geographic limitations and chronological parameters, the present volume is a welcome addition to anyone's library of reference tools and pedagogical resources. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that the restricted scope of this study is testimony to the increasing interest in this field of study and the dire need for further work. On the whole, it is a mature and knowledgeable synthesis of material based on the author's own work in the field.


[1] In addition to numerous articles, Madeline H. Caviness is known for the following books: The early stained glass of Canterbury Cathedral (Princeton, 1977); The windows of Christ Church Cathedral (London, 1981); with Evelyn Ruth Staudinger, Sumptuous arts at the royal abbeys in Reims and Braine (Princeton, 1990).

[2] M.H. Caviness, Stained Glass before 1540, an annotated bibliography (Boston, 1983).