Facts about Glass: Insertions

The idea of insertions in stained glass windows is simple. Create a hole in a piece of glass and insert another piece of glass (probably of a different colour) that has been shaped to fit the hole. In practice of course this required a great deal of skill. Silica or a copper wheel embedded with abrasives was used to grind a hole through a piece of glass. Another piece of glass would then be cut precisely to fit into the hole and wrapped in a thin lead came. This was then carefully inserted into the hole in the larger piece of glass. Once in place the lead would be soldered to hold the new insertion in position.

The Burrell Collection has many superb examples of the insertion technique on display. Mostly it is found in heraldic glass, probably as a display of wealth, as only the most highly skilled glaziers used these techniques, and it would have been expensive! One of the finest examples you are likely to see is the Tudor rose panel in the Hutton hall.

Burrell Collection - Tudor Rose
Burrell Collection – Tudor Rose

This is a roundel with the red and white rose of Lancaster and York on a purple background between two green leaves with a red border. It is English and dates to the 16th century. It is possible that it was originally placed in a shield. This is a particularly unique example as it has four layers of insertions altogether in one piece. It is extremely rare to see so many insertions within insertions. This would have taken a lot of time, patience and skill to make!

Tudor Rose Insertions
Tudor Rose Insertions

Other fine examples can be seen in the heraldic panels from Fawsley Hall, for example the Shield of Thomas Harrowdon and the Shield of Sir Richard Knightley and Elizabeth Purefoy. These panels were part of a large series of heraldry commissioned by Sir Edmund Knightley to illustrate his family history and his links to royalty. Edmund was knighted by Henry VIII and made commissioner for the Suppression of the Monasteries, the wealth associated with such a powerful position enabled him to commission the finest glaziers at the time to create these windows using the most highly skilled techniques.

Insertions in the Shield Of  Thomas Harowdon
Insertions in the Shield Of Thomas Harowdon

In the shield of Thomas Harrowdon the detail on the left is taken with reflected light and on the right, transmitted light. Notice the little circle where the red flashing has been ground away inside the insertion to create a small crescent. In the Shield of Sir Richard Knightley and Elizabeth Purefoy:

Insertions in the Shield Of Sir Richard Knightley and Elizabeth Purefoy
Insertions in the Shield Of Sir Richard Knightley and Elizabeth Purefoy

You can see several insertions in this panel: The 6 triangular shapes like the two detailed and the stag’s head with a blue insertion between the antlers. Because of the unusual shapes and the narrow width of glass used, these pieces would have been at a high risk of breaking, so the fact that they have survived for nearly 500 years is absolutely remarkable!

The Life of Christ and The Virgin panels – Christ Before Pilate Panel

Boppard Christ Before Pilate panel
Boppard Christ Before Pilate panel

In the Bible story of Jesus before Pilate, we are told that Pilate was convinced that Jesus was innocent, saying seven times, “I find no fault in him”. His wife urged him not to sentence Him. Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, who returned Him. Pilate then tried to get the populace to convict Barabbas in His place. Finally, Pilate sentenced Jesus to be crucified.

The Boppard window may be the scene before Jesus is scourged as he is dressed and has no crown of thorns. The accusers behind are clearly eager to inflict harm on him – they are angry and animated. Pilate sits on his throne with his left hand open as though willing Jesus to declare his innocence. In his right hand is a sword, perhaps a symbol of his authority and power. Jesus looks patiently downwards. The rope that is tied around Jesus’ waist is wrapped around the armoured soldier’s hand. The panel is beautifully composed and the faces and painted with realistic expressions. The colours are fabulous!

Another example of Christ before Pilate in the Burrell Collection can be seen in the Life of Christ window which is on display.

Burrell Collection: Life Of Christ Window - Christ Before Pilate
Burrell Collection: Life Of Christ Window – Christ Before Pilate
Burrell Collection: Life Of Christ Window - Detail of Christ Before Pilate
Burrell Collection: Life Of Christ Window – Detail of Christ Before Pilate

This window has two lights with four scenes from the life of Christ; the Nativity, Christ before Pilate, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. It is a French window dated to the first half of the 15th century, just like the Boppard windows.

Although stylistically very different there are several similarities between the composition of the French Christ before Pilate panel and the Boppard panel. Pilate wears a hat and an ermine collared red tunic. Jesus has a calm sad face and between Pilate and Jesus is an accuser with a red angry face. The black and white tiled floor is also very similar in the two panels.

The big difference is the use of an architectural canopy in the background to the French panel. Although the figures in colour stand out against the areas of canopy, the image is far more confusing due to many mending leads used during previous restorations and therefore lacks the impact of the Boppard panel.

 

Facts about Glass: Flashed glass examples

It is interesting that flashed glass  was first used in stained glass windows long after it had been used in the making of bottles and vases, etc. A beautiful example of early flashed glass is the Portland vase in the British Museum, a fabulous example of Roman cameo glass, probably made in Italy and dating to between 5AD and 25AD.

Portland vase in the British Museum – © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

The Portland Vase in the British Museum -  a superb example of Roman flashed glass
The Portland Vase in the British Museum – a superb example of Roman flashed glass

The Glasgow  has several beautiful Chinese cameo glass snuff bottles with two shown below. Tobacco arrived in China in the late 16th century and the taking of powdered tobacco, snuff, was very popular by the late 17th century. Snuff bottles were an excellent way of keeping it fresh and the 18th and 19th centuries saw the production of the finest snuff bottles. They were made of a variety of materials, flashed glass being a very popular type.

Chinese Snuff Bottle from Glasgow Museums in beautiful blue and white glass to echo the cobalt under-glazed porcelains
Chinese Snuff Bottle from Glasgow Museums in beautiful blue and white glass to echo the cobalt under-glazed porcelains
Chinese Snuff Bottle from Glasgow Museums with multi-coloured flashing
Chinese Snuff Bottle from Glasgow Museums with multi-coloured flashing

The grinding technique described above is seen in many of the heraldic stained glass windows in the Burrell Collection. A superb example, currently on display in a specially designed light-box so you can study the techniques, is the shield of Sir Thomas Harrowdon, Great-uncle of Sir Edmund Knightley, made around 1530. This piece of heraldic stained glass is from a collection of panels from Fawsley Hall depicting the lineage of Sir Edmund Knightley. The red and white chequered background is made from red on clear flash glass which has been carefully abraded to produce the pattern.

Shield Of Thomas Harowdon in the Burrell Collection
Shield Of Thomas Harowdon in the Burrell Collection
Flash glass detail from the shield of Sir Thomas Harrowdon
Flash glass detail from the shield of Sir Thomas Harrowdon

Silver stain was often applied to the back of a piece of abraded flashed glass in order to produce a yellow colour. Above is a detail from the lower centre of the shield. The top detail is

lit from behind (transmitted light), the way it would be viewed as a window, and the lower from above (reflected light) which shows the detail of how it was ground out. The flashed glass used for this piece is the same as that used for the chequered squares; layer of red on a layer of clear glass. Silver stain has been applied to the back of the glass where the red layer has been abraded away to turn the clear glass yellow.

The Life of Christ and The Virgin panels – Agony in the Garden Panel

Burrell Collection Agony in the Garden Panel from the Life of Christ and the Virgin Window
Burrell Collection Agony in the Garden Panel from the Life of Christ and the Virgin Window

This panel is called “Agony in the Garden” or “Mount of Olives”. It depicts the New Testament story in Matthew Chapter 26 where Jesus leaves the majority of disciples to rest while he takes Peter, James and John into the garden of Gethsemane, near the foot of the Mount of Olives. Peter is on the left with his short curling white hair, bald on top, John the Apostle (also the Evangelist) with one of his attributes, a book, and James in the middle behind.

Jesus leaves them to keep vigil while he moves a short distance away to pray. The story continues:

{26:39} And continuing on a little further, he fell prostrate on his face, praying and saying: “My Father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass away from me. Yet truly, let it not be as I will, but as you will.”
{26:40} And he approached his disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter: “So, were you not able keep vigil with me for one hour?
{26:41} Be vigilant and pray, so that you may not enter into temptation. Indeed, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
{26:42} Again, a second time, he went and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this chalice cannot pass away, unless I drink it, let your will be done.”
{26:43} And again, he went and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.
{26:44} And leaving them behind, again he went and prayed for the third time, saying the same words.
{26:45} Then he approached his disciples and said to them: “Sleep now and rest. Behold, the hour has drawn near, and the Son of man will be delivered into the hands of sinners.
{26:46} Rise up; let us go. Behold, he who will betray me draws near.”
{26:47} While he was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived, and with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, sent from the leaders of the priests and the elders of the people.

The garden is shown with a wicker fence, with Peter, James and John fast asleep. Jesus kneels, praying, while the chalice referred to in the text is on the rock before him (the bitter wine symbolising the evil of mankind and the terrible suffering he is about to experience). In some compositions the angel is seen carrying the chalice, but in this panel the angel carries a cross, less commonly depicted, which emphasises what is in the future. The chalice is also interpreted as the strength sent down to Jesus in answer to his call for divine assistance (the sweet wine symbolising the goodness that mankind can do).

In the top left, Judas is seen leading into the garden the soldiers, high priests, Pharisees, and servants to arrest Jesus. He holds his bag of money, thirty silver coins (Matthew 26:14-16). He turns back towards the soldiers saying “Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; hold him fast”, whilst pointing them forward. The soldiers are in splendid early 15 century armour.