Sometimes an exhibition arrives with the shock of a new recognition. Just as in the case of the wonderful 1995 New York exhibition of Netherlandish stained glass, The Luminous Image, produced by Timothy Husband, this major show of both German and Swiss stained glass and its drawing designs proves to be marvelously enlightening and illuminating. The product of a decade of combined research by its two outstanding curators, Painting on Light is at once a joy to visit (its recent Getty stay has just ended; its fall installation in St. Louis is still on view as this is published) but also a permanent and fundamental research resource in English for a vital (but utterly neglected in modern scholarship) medium of both public and private delectation in early modern Germany and Switzerland.
The roster of major artists on view with multiple works in both drawings and glass is impressive indeed: the Housebook Master, Dürer, Baldung, Kulmbach, Beham, Schäufelein, Pencz, Breu, Graf, Manuel Deutsch, and Holbein, to name only the most prolific and familiar. In our era, which is now willing to consider issues of collaboration in the production of art, ranging in Dürer’s Germany from sculpture to woodcut, we should not be surprised that there were (now largely unknown) master stained glass specialists, too, led in Strasbourg by Peter Hemmel von Andlau and his workshop associates and in Nuremberg by Veit Hirsvogel and sons. The catalogue entries do rich justice to existing scholarship, familiar before now mainly to glass specialists alone, and add original insights, using generous comparative illustrations for works that could not be borrowed and put on show in their own right.
Most important and lasting for the newcomer to this fascinating medium are the essays. The introduction by Butts and Hendrix provides a wonderful roster of the dramatis personae and overall development of glass painting. It is richly complemented by an essay on technique by Peter van Treeck (unillustrated, unfortunately; this discussion would have been even more tangible had it been accompanied by plates akin to the wonderful display of technique on view at the Getty). Newcomers to the medium may not be familiar with the tinting used to complement black-and-white glass, such as the range of yellowish ‘sanguine’ (‘eisenrot’ in German) tones, or the varied opportunities to use and to modify ‘matts’ or glaze washes on the surface of the glass, which could be scraped, scratched, and stippled as well as ‘etched’ with a bristle brush.
Dürer’s Nuremberg always takes centre stage in discussions of German art of this period, so the essay by Hartmut Scholz, the dean of glass specialists for Nuremberg, on Southern German stained glass appropriately celebrates highlights such as the windows of St. Sebald’s by Dürer and Kulmbach, while also justly noting accomplishments in Strasbourg (chiefly by Himmel von Andlau and the ‘Strasbourg Workshop-Cooperative’) and Freiburg (Baldung), as well as Augsburg (where losses are devastating), Munich, and Landshut. Lavish colour illustrations underscore these discussions, and the authoritative references will guide the interested specialist more deeply.
Most English-speakers will perhaps be delightfully surprised by the essay on smaller, heraldic civic Swiss glass in town halls, jointly penned ‘In Honour of Friendship’ (a phrase referring to exchange of gifts of heraldic glass from one Swiss canton to another) by Barbara Giesicke and Mylène Ruoss. Indeed, Swiss glass is a general area where even the admired wash drawings of Holbein the Younger or Manuel Deutsch have not always been associated with the stained glass for which they served as designs. This essay focuses on function and meaning in civic stained glass donations rather than striving for a survey as such, and it reminds us of the pointedly heraldic and decorative qualities of much stained glass, too often ignored because of its particularized character. Of course, much of this material has been dispersed or even lost because of its location in vulnerable secular city hall (as well as private home) settings; however, a few sites have remained intact, such as the Basel Town Hall. From this essay the viewer turns to the designs of Augsburg and Switzerland (with a continuity provided via the Holbein family migration from the former to the latter) with new eyes for the heraldic objects on display in the exhibition.
One clear result of seeing the show on multiple careful visits was the destabilizing of inherited wisdom about drawings in particular. Some works mysteriously defy easy categorization as designs by a painter-designer. Either they seem to be copies, or works subjected to multiple reworkings, and even when copies, it is not clear whether these objects were reproduced by the designers’ shop or by glass painters (who were often talented painters in their own right and whose hatchings and fine modelling on glass were one of the joys of first-hand and rare close-up experience of these objects). For example, the contrast between the actual glass of the Self-Mortification of St. Benedict (from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) and its supposed ‘design’ (ascribed ambiguously as ‘by or after Dürer’; nos. 15-16) seemed to display considerable discrepancy between what might have seemed like model and fulfilment (and surely points to the drawing, from Darmstadt, as ‘after’ Dürer). Indeed, the other St. Benedict drawings (nos. 11-14) also display considerable variation in quality of execution, and force one to rethink the usual connoisseur’s issue of when a work is workshop or ‘original’ with mitigating considerations of function. In similar fashion, the large cartoon of St. Peter (British Museum, no. 18; here upgraded to ‘attributed to Dürer’ from a traditional ascription to Kulmbach) from St. Sebald’s Bishops of Bamberg window actually shows three different moments of execution, two of contours and one of wash (which seems clearly to be post-1506 and Venice, despite the dating of 1501-02 assigned to the cartoon, based on a payment for the window to Hirsvogel). Perhaps this cartoon was reworked in the shop later, and it does form the basis of another image (c.1518) in the Marienkirche.
Such issues recur again and again, such as the counterproofs by Breu of two hunt scenes for Emperor Maximilian, originals in Paris, reversals in Munich (nos. 87-88, 89-90), or the quite meticulous replica (but on paper with a posthumous watermark) after Hans Holbein’s Wild Man(original London; replica Berlin, nos. 151-52). In the case of Holbein there are even two different stained glass realizations of his Passioncycle (from Innsbruck and San Diego, nos. 147-48); designs for those windows were also reproduced in counterproofs, preserved in the British Museum after the extant originals in Basel (no. 146 as a sample).
These are just a few instances of the more prominent issues raised by the more familiar artists in this ground-breaking and fascinating exhibition. Those who cannot get to Los Angeles or St. Louis will be permanent beneficiaries of the meticulous research of the entries and authoritative essays of the catalogue. But for those fortunate enough to see such works as the Dürer-Hirsvogel Annunciation on the cover of the catalogue (now in the Tucherschloss in Nuremberg), rejoined during the exhibition with its saintly mates, Andrew and Sixtus II (now in Forest Lawn, Los Angeles; nos. 21-22), could rejoice, together with a surprisingly large general public in attendance, at the rediscovery of a lustrous and magnificently monumental, yet meticulous art form, whose collaborative production actually offered the best efforts of talented designers and glass painters alike.
University of Pennsylvania