English Stained Glass in the Gothic Revival: the Oxford Movement, Cambridge Camden Society, and A.W.N. Pugin
Setting the Stage
Stained glass in the late nineteenth century was influenced by a variety of factors—moral, theological, and political. These factors dictated the amount and style of the stained glass produced, as well as the artists making it.
By this time, England’s Industrial Revolution was well underway and opposed by various intellectual groups whose romantic viewpoint of the pre-industrialized world, particularly that of the Middle Ages, lead to what is deemed the Romantic Period. These intellectuals portrayed the Middle Ages as an era of simplicity and morality, and represented these ideals both in art and literature.
Simultaneously religious theory underwent great changes, with two organizations at the forefront: the Tractarians of the Oxford Movement, a theological organization based at Oxford University, and the Ecclesiologists of the Cambridge Camden Society, an architectural society based out of Cambridge University. These organizations fought to strengthen liturgical rituals and elaborate ecclesiastical interior and exterior architecture, including stained glass.
The ideologies and actions of the Romantics, Tractarians, and Ecclesiologists were inadvertently supported by legislation encouraging the increased construction of Anglican churches within the United Kingdom, resulting in increased demand and production of stained glass in Victorian England.
During the nineteenth century British authorities began to worry about the state of the English Church. The population of England exceeded the available seating in Anglican churches by around two and a half million people. In the eyes of the English, a lack of religious participation was connected to revolution: the French Revolution (1789-99) was partially driven by anti-clericalism, the overthrow and death of Charles I of England was influenced by Nonconformity (rebellion against the Anglican Church), the 1798 rebellions in Ireland were religion driven, and even the American Revolution was influenced by religious motives—in the eyes of the English. Officials were afraid of the consequences of unavailable seating, and as a result, legislation was put in place between 1803 and 1824 that mandated the construction and repair of Anglican churches. In 1860 alone 7,500 new churches were built, and by 1880 that number rose to 16,000. These new churches would, in the eyes of the monarchy and Parliament, keep dissent from the Anglican Church from growing, as well as ensure the moral and religious future of the people, seventy-five percent of whom currently failed to attend regular religious services.
It was during this period of moral concern that the Oxford Movement, a theological movement comprised of the High Churchmen within the Anglican Church, became active. The High Churchmen of this movement (who became known as the Tractarians after their publication The Tracts for the Times) felt the Anglican Church had become too secular, the state held too much control over it, and it had lost touch with its roots in the pre-Reformation church (really meaning its Roman Catholic lineage). The Tractarians argued that the Anglican Church was part of and retained an unbroken connection with the Roman Catholic Church, and began to look towards it as the best model for Church of England (the Anglican Church in England). They were concerned with the liturgical rituals of church services. They moved for deeper worship, more frequent celebrations of the Eucharist, and a stronger view of the clergy—all themes of the Roman Catholic Church and a large departure for the Anglican Church, which was established after the rejection of these practices during the Reformation. To begin this new reform some Anglican churches abandoned the Book of Common Prayer for the Roman breviary and missal. Additionally Latin services were incorporated into worship, and the service began to follow Roman Catholic liturgical devotions more closely.
This desire to strengthen the connection between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches was a staple to the Oxford Movement’s theology, and very controversial. Prejudice against Roman Catholics was very strong during the nineteenth century. The Low Churchman (the opposing group in the Anglican Church) became suspicious that the High Churchmen were crypto-Papists (Papist being a slur against Roman Catholics) or even Catholic spies. Catholicism was also associated were the “undesirable” places in Europe—Ireland and France for example—and thus, all things combined, encouraged anti-Papal riots against a fear of Papal aggression.
Cambridge Camden Society
Simultaneously the Cambridge Camden Society was established (1833) at Cambridge University to take on the role of reviving church architecture. The Ecclesiologists (as they became known, after their publication The Ecclesiologist) followed A.W.N. Pugin’s (1812-52) example towards a purer use of the Gothic influence in church architecture, compared to that which had been used in the previous two centuries. They built new churches and restored old ones in a manner that captured a romantic vision of the Middle Ages, creating the physical manifestation of the Tractarian’s theology. They were the driving force behind the Gothic Revival in both exterior and interior ecclesiastic architecture. For example, all forms of ritualistic objects—chancels, vestments, even use of the Cross—were regarded with skepticism and thought of as highly Catholic by the Anglicans, particularly the Low Churchmen, but championed by the Ecclesiologists. The Low Churchmen argued that all symbolist, ceremony, sacred imagery, and decoration associated with the Roman Catholic Church were unacceptable for use in the Anglican Church. Despite this, many Anglican churches, encouraged by the Ecclesiologists, began embracing the splendor promoted by Gothic Revivalists, including carved pinnacles, tiled roofs, detailed metalwork, vestments, and stained glass windows. Interiors became so decorated that some churches had to put out a sign letting people know that they were in fact not Roman Catholic.
The Ecclesiologists promoted their ideas on church buildings and the revival of gothic influence through their journal, The Ecclesiologist. They used it to scold the public for their neglect of their country’s churches, while keeping their own homes comfortable and maintained. They also used it as a platform to explain the purposes of all the trappings of medieval churches, which were now showing up in their Anglican churches, and which most people in Britain were ignorant and suspicious of, since they were so closely related to the objects and architecture of the Roman Catholic Church. The Ecclesiologist became a sort of handbook for the Gothic Revival. It embraced Pugin’s ‘true principles’ (The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture, 1841) and adopted the Decorated Style (a division of English Gothic architecture dating around 1250 to 1350) as the approved style for church architecture. Stained glass was discussed with enthusiasm and serious consideration in The Ecclesiologist, which strongly encouraged its revival.
A.W.N. Pugin and Stained Glass
Like everything else, the Ecclesiologists had strong opinions about which stained glass was worthy of reproduction in the new gothic revival churches. The figurative focus of eighteenth-century stained glass, which was treated more like a canvas, painted heavily with enamels, resulted in dark glass that did not actually function as a window. Medieval glass was preferred for the vibrancy of color, harmony of materials, and serious and religious nature, all of which were lacking in the eighteenth-century windows. Early in the Ecclesiologists’ popularity, copying of medieval windows, almost directly, was encouraged as a way to learn the art. Later this practice became a stepping stone to a more contemporary translation of the windows, which pulled from a variety of influences. Through The Ecclesiologist the High Churchmen lectured on the best styles to imitate and the best architects and craftsmen to hire, and they could make or break the fate of an architect as a result of their reports.
A.W.N. Pugin was one of the early leading figures in the Gothic Revival. He established the basis for archaeological accuracy and set the highest standards for the recreation of medieval principals in English stained glass production. He laid out the standards for good design, which was a result of his opinions on the demise of stained glass following the Middle Ages. He felt there were three reasons for this demise: the decline in gothic architecture, which was the only style that would exhibit stained glass to its full effect; the rendering of stained glass as complete pictures in the sixteenth century, which had no union with the architecture surrounding it; and the discovery of a new process of enameling in the seventeenth century leading to an overuse of enameling, which corrupted the translucency of the glass. To ensure future good design, Pugin wrote The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture, which provided his guidelines for both architectural and stained glass design. His book was revered by all in the field and is still an important resource today.
Pugin, who in addition to being an art critic was also an architect and designer, designed stained glass for his own churches. Over the years he worked with a variety of craftsmen until he formed a partnership—with John Hardman of Birmingham—that gave him complete creative control. Prior to this partnership Pugin hired William Warrington, a virtually unknown pupil of Thomas Willement, to make his first windows in 1838. By 1842, Warrington became too expensive for Pugin to retain, and he began working with William Wailes. Although Wailes created high quality stained glass, what Pugin really wanted was complete creative control that resulted when he convinced his friend Hardman to expand his already established workshop to include stained glass production, under Pugin’s direct supervision. Renamed as John Hardman & Company, they would set the precedent for all stained glass by 1850. For the first four years, Pugin designed virtually all the stained glass, which was made for his own churches. Pugin’s personal preference was for Early, Decorated, and Late Gothic period glass, from between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. His windows were not mere copies, but rather used medieval principles of building to create windows that were new works of art. Eventually, he and Hardman began working with white glass; silver stains; more lighthearted colors; varying poses, gestures, and expressions; and livelier draperies. He also moved away from canopied windows towards the use of quatrefoil shapes. In the late 1850s grisaille glass also became a predominate feature of Pugin’s and Hardman’s windows. By 1849 his work had moved beyond his own Roman Catholic churches to be featured by architects of the Anglican churches, including those of William Butterfield and George Gilbert Scott.
Between 1851 and 1856, John Hardman & Company, along with William Wailes, was the most favored stained glass producer within Ecclesiological circles. In the late 1850s the firm of Clayton & Bell began gaining popularity as well. Clayton brought a Pre-Raphaelite influence from his friendship with Dante Gabriel Rossetti to their work, which inspired him to work in a freer, less serious manner. Clayton began designing stained glass in 1853, and had originally worked under Richard Cromwell Carpenter, one of the Ecclesiologists’ favorite architects, which lead to an early and enthusiastic acceptance of his work. The Ecclesiologist highly praised Clayton & Bell’s work at Westminster Abbey, and their renovation of St. Michael’s in London was called the best work that any English stained glass artists had yet produced since the revival of the art.
Negative Effects of the Church Boom on Stained Glass
Gothic Revival stained glass production is inherently entwined in the great demand for church construction in nineteenth-century England, and as a result this great demand affected the physical production of these windows. For example, and noted by architect George Gilbert Scott, Clayton & Bell’s early, imaginative choices and numerous color ranges begin to become diluted by the 1860s when they begin to use harder, more metallic colors in standard red, blue, and white. Bell abandons his iconic use of canopy work after the 1860s as well. Such a lack of detail suggests that Clayton & Bell were not as involved in production, doing little more than approving the initial sketches. Pressure to produce stained glass quickly and in great quantity caused many studios to struggle to keep up with demand and resulted in a decrease in stained glass quality.
The success and revival of stained glass during the nineteenth century was, to a great extent, a product of the theological push towards High Churchmanship inspired by the Oxford Movement and physically manifested by the Ecclesiologists. Stained glass was considered vital for the creation of the awe inspiring feeling the High Churchmen wanted to invoke for congregations—a romantic look back to worship in the Middle Ages. Although the politically provoked boom in church construction inspired the revival of stained glass production, it was the Tractarians and Ecclesiologists played an essential part in ensuring that the stained glass produced met intellectual and aesthetic standards of design.
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