Christine Downie, Objects Conservator
The monument Tiffany Window, Baptism of Christ, has graced the entrance to the BMA auditorium since 1982. When the time came to reinstall the piece in the American Wing, the question arose of which side should be shown. There is no correct side to a stained-glass window since it has viewers from both the inside and the outside of the building.
Looking at the window in its original installation, it became clear that the window had been shown from the exterior viewpoint. For instance, it might have struck the viewer that St. John was baptizing Jesus with his left hand, whereas in a church one might expect to see him pouring with his right hand. All the supporting rods were at the back of the piece, whereas it is traditional in a church for the stained-glass windows to have the supporting rods on the interior. Further investigation showed that the original cartoon by the artist Frank Brangwyn, which Tiffany used for the stained-glass design, has St. John pouring the water on Jesus’ head using his right hand. The decision was made by Dr. David Park Curry, Senior Curator and Dept. Head of Decorative Arts, American Painting & Sculpture, to show the Tiffany window from the other side in the reinstallation of the American Wing. Thus began one of the toughest installation challenges in the museum to date.
The piece had been completely restored in 1979 by a New York City stained-glass specialist and separated into four panels for easier handling. In the thirty years following, a few conservation issues developed, such as a brass supporting rod on an upper panel, which had separated from the frame at one end. Fortunately, we had the expertise of Tage Jakobsen of Artisan Glass Works, Inc., Baltimore, who carried out various metal repairs and gave advice on the display aspects of the piece. We were also fortunate to have local mount maker and sculptor Paul Daniel to help fabricate new supports for the window. Under the direction of Dave Verchomin, Installation Manager, the BMA installation team and an army of contract art handlers deinstalled the window and placed it in storage to await stabilization and cleaning.
The first piece I treated was the smallest, and located at the base of the window. You can see the exterior side and the interior side below.
Much to my delight there was a painted Tiffany signature stamp on the bottom right hand corner of the interior view that had some old repairs and was covered in surface grime – further evidence that this was indeed the interior side.
The treatment of each panel was carried out over a few months, with art handling help from the BMA Registrars and Installation team. After extensive research, a new LED lighting system was selected by Lighting Designer Kel Millionie. After much planning and thought the BMA Installation crew and contract art handler army came together again to reinstall St. John Baptist window in November, 2014, just in time for the opening of the American Wing.
BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.