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Grey Matters

Anonymous artist, Rhineland (Cologne?)
The Assumption of the Virgin, ca. 1510-20
green-tinted cylinder glass with silver stain and vitreous paint
⌀ 8.5 inches
⌀ 21.7  cm
Enlivened with a profusion of finely-painted details and scratched highlights, this is a rare surviving stained-glass of a Marian subject.

This roundel depicts the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, a scene that attempts to visualize the widespread Christian belief that following her earthly death, the Virgin’s body rose up to Heaven. Mary is shown standing within a mandorla of light rays atop a crescent moon (a reference to the Book of Revelation), its horny rim curved like a cradle below her feet.

Shading is built up in tremendously subtle washes that help to balance and provide a counterpoint to the vivid yellow stain of the figures’ hair and clothing, and the effects of the apparently divine light that emanates from the Virgin, the dove, and the heavenly sky behind God the Father. Interestingly however, the designer responsible for our roundel’s composition lit everything uniformly from the left, regardless of the fact that those divine light sources are clustered around the Virgin herself, so that the two left-hand angels appear to be thrown into shade in the direction of the central mandorla of light rays rather than away from it. Nevertheless, the pigments are handled with extreme precision, so that clouds, hair, textiles and feathers are each inflected with a unique sense of texture and mass.

Cologne production

Fig. 1 Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altar, The Baptism of Christ, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

The stout, fleshy faces of the angels and the Virgin’s high forehead are features of our roundel that are strongly evocative of contemporary developments in panel painting, particularly that produced in the city of Cologne by painters including the Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece (figs. 1-2). It is likely that our roundel was produced in one of the city’s foremost glass-painting workshops by a glazier with direct access to his paintings, or with knowledge of his style.

Fig. 2 Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altar, The Virgin and Child with Musical Angels. The National Gallery, London

Although our roundel’s composition is extremely rare, others incorporating analogous elements of its design include an example in the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Froyle (Hampshire), and another formerly in an Austrian private collection.[1] They are likely to have been made to decorate private chapels or family homes, and would have been the focus of celebrations on the feast of the Assumption, which typically occurs on the 15th of August each year. ❖

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Installation view of Grey Matters at Nicholas Hall, 2021
With two stained-glass roundels

Stéphane and Gaspard Bourgeois (Bourgeois Frères), Cologne

Their posthumous sale, J. M. Heberle, Cologne, 19-27 October 1904, lot 355

Anonymous sale, Europäisches Glas, Dr Fischer, Heilbronn, 22 March 1997, lot 450

Klaus Tiedemann collection, inv. 14, acquired from the above

Klaus Tiedemann, Gemälde aus Glas und Licht: Kabinettscheiben der Renaissance, privately printed, Heidelberg, 2006, p. 75.

Klaus Tiedemann, Gemalt auf Glas & Licht: Kabinettscheiben von Gotik bis Barock / Painted on glass & light: Stained glass panels from the Gothic to Baroque Period, Dettelsbach, 2009, p. 104.

Romont, Vitromusée (Musée Suisse du Vitrail et des Arts du Verre), Légendes Dorées: Rondels des anciens Pays-Bas du XVe au XVIIe siècle, 8 June-23 November 2008, no. 28

Iphofen, Knauf-Museum, Gemalt auf Glas & Licht Kabinettscheiben von Gotik bis Barock, 29 March-2 August 2009

Heidelberg, Museum für Sakrale Kunst und Liturgie, Gemalt auf Glas & Licht: Kabinettscheiben von Gotik bis Barock, 16 July-16 October 2011

Linnich, Deutsches Glasmalerei-Museum Goldene Geschichten auf Glas: Kabinettscheiben von Gotik bis Barock, 16 March-4 August 2013

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