Tag Archives: stained glass

BMA Voices: Louis Comfort Tiffany Window of the Baptism of Christ: the other side!

Baptism of Christ at the entrance to the BMA auditorium

Manufactured by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company from a design by Frank Brangwyn.. Window: Baptism of Christ. c. 1897. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Herman and Rosa L. Cohen, and Ben and Zelda G. Cohen, BMA 1979.5. © Estate of Frank Brangwyn. Baptism of Christ at the entrance to the BMA auditorium.

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.

1979.5 Tiffany Window Baptism of Christ Aug 5, 2013 085 (Small)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.

Exterior viewof the glass.

Exterior view of the glass.

Interior view of the glass.

Interior view of the glass.

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.

March 27, 2014 006 (Small)

A painted Tiffany signature stamp on the bottom right hand corner of the interior view.

 

July 25th, 2014 005 (Small)

The BMA Registrars and Installation team carefully move the Tiffany Window.

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.

David Zimmerman adjusting the mount before the second panel is installed

David Zimmerman adjusting the mount before the second panel is installed.

Testing of the LED panels in the bottom right corner

Testing of the LED panels in the bottom right corner

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.

BMA Voices: The treatment of the Strawberry Hill roundels

Before Treatment photos of the roundels.

Before Treatment photos of the roundels. Unknown Maker. Crucifixion with Longinus Piercing Christ’s Side. c. 1520. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Saidie A. May, BMA 1941.399.1a

Christine Downie, Objects Conservator

One responsibility of a conservator in a museum is to “condition check” artworks that are requested for loan from other institutions, to ensure that the work is stable and in good condition to travel. In May 2008, a request came from the Yale Center for British Art, The Lewis Walpole Library, and the Victoria and Albert Museum for several roundels (small, single pieces of lightly tinted glass painted with scenes using vitreous paint and colored yellow using silver stain, usually round) in the BMA collection. The institutions were organizing a major exhibition featuring objects from the collection of Horace Walpole – a well-known British historian, Member of Parliament, novelist, connoisseur and collector of decorative art pieces, including stained glass. The roundels were made in the 1500s and later collected by Walpole for his home “Strawberry Hill” in Twickenham, England. Unfortunately a number of the BMA roundels were broken in numerous pieces and precariously held together by plates of glass. They were certainly too fragile for travel overseas. Stabilizing them would require the skill of a stained glass conservator. There was not enough time and money for this to be achieved for the Walpole exhibition so I sadly had to say no to the loan.

Horace Walpole home “Strawberry Hill”, in Twickenham, England.

Horace Walpole home “Strawberry Hill”, in Twickenham, England.

I became curious how these roundels had come to the BMA from Strawberry Hill and how they ended up surrounded by odds and ends of stained glass fragments. Valuable information came from Michael Peover – an expert on the Strawberry Hill stained glass – and Sona Johnston, then Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture. It seems the roundels were sold in an estate sale in 1842 by Walpole’s heir, the Earl of Waldegrave, and passed through various hands before being acquired by an American – William Randolph Hearst. At some point they were combined together with stained glass fragments into two panels with a stained glass patterned surround. Saidie A. May later bought them at the 1941 sale of the Hearst Collection. She had the two stained glass panels separated into 4 panels and inserted in four windows. These were eventually donated and installed at the BMA along with several other medieval and renaissance stained glass pieces from her collection.

In January 2009 Johnston and Tom Primeau, Head of Conservation, organized a review of all the BMA stained glass by historian Michael Cothren, Scheuer Family Professor of Humanities at Swarthmore College. I was asked to find a stained-glass conservator that would be experienced enough to take on treating the stained glass that Cothren and the BMA curators identified as gems, including the four panels with the Strawberry Hill roundels. I was lucky to find such a person at a 2009 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Forum for the Conservation and Restoration of Stained-Glass Windows. The following January, stained glass conservator and artist Mary Clerkin-Higgins examined all the gems of the stained glass collection in the BMA conservation lab. Through the generous financial support of the The Richard C. von Hess Foundation, the pieces were carefully packed by art handler Mike Klunk and delivered to Mary’s studio in New York for treatment. Mary and her colleague Takuji Hamanaka were able to treat the roundels and surrounding glass and bring them together as two panels once again. The two panels are now being installed in the Jacobs wing with the hope that next time a loan request comes for a Walpole exhibition the answer will be yes!

Mary Clerkin-Higgins examining two of the roundels in the BMA conservation lab.

Mary Clerkin-Higgins examining two of the roundels in the BMA conservation lab.

Four of the six roundels and fragment inserted into windows.

Four of the six roundels and fragment inserted into windows.

After treatment photo of the Strawberry Hill roundels and surrounding glass, taken in the BMA conservation lab.

After treatment photo of the Strawberry Hill roundels and surrounding glass, taken in the BMA conservation lab.

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.