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Art. I.-Hints on Glass-Painting. By An AMATEUR. Oxford:
John Henry Parker. 1847.
A WORK of such pretensions as the one whose title stands at the head of this article, devoted entirely to the subject of glasspainting, suggests at once more than one important reflection independent of and previous to any judgment of the merits of the work itself. In the first place it is an indication that the spirit of revival in matters of ecclesiastical decoration is not extinct nor waning; in fact, although in some cases eccentric and extravagant efforts, resulting from the uncertainty necessarily attending the first steps of a radical change, may have given an uninviting aspect to the movement, there is enough of right and solid principle in it to ensure it some stability. We say it is an evidence of continued progress in ecclesiastical taste, because, however general the application of stained glass to ornamental purposes may be, there can be no doubt that the actual demand for its use in churches, as well as the higher quality of the work required, points out all secular employment of the art as secondary and subordinate. As for the taste itself, it may be stigmatized as visionary and unreal, or as dangerous and seductive; all such assaults it will survive, and its strongest symptoms of health and vitality consist in the daily extension of its influence among persons too much opposed in views to have adopted it as a party watchword. The charge of unreality rests on the belief that acts of church-restoration and adornment have only in view the indulgence of a taste or humour. Now if by this is meant a purely selfish indulgence, we do not believe the case is a common one where the sacrifice is liberal. If, however, its opponents mean merely that the enjoyment of the result, apart from a sense of duty, more than repays the devotion of a church-restorer, we will only say that the weakness, if it be one, is at least too amiable to be discouraged. If we knew any man who thought it worth while to sell that he had and give to
the poor, we should hardly be disposed to depreciate his act on the ground that he expected to increase rather than diminish his temporal happiness by the sacrifice-in short, that with him alms-giving was only a hobby. And why should that which is offered directly to God in church-decorations be the only kind of charity which does not bless the giver ?
But another reflection somewhat less trite, and more immediately connected with the subject in hand, arises from the fact of an amateur attaching himself, so peculiarly as the author of this work must have done, to a single and distinct branch of medieval art. Now in this exclusive following out of one vein in the mine of antiquity lies, we imagine, both the secret of all high attainments in art, and the seed of all decay. Without it no one branch will ever come near perfection, and yet in it lurks the worm which attacks the fruit still short of maturity. There may be, for instance, and there certainly are, men who practise simultaneously, with success, several distinct branches of church-decoration, but it will be found that the natural gifts proper to each, with the means of cultivating and supporting all by acquired knowledge, are seldom combined in one person in sufficient degree to rise very far above mediocrity. This is not refuted by instances such as those of. Michael Angelo and Leonardo da Vinci, men who in their own persons served as the guides of the age in architecture, painting, sculpture, mechanics, mathematics and anatomy, simultaneously. These were giants whom no one looks for again, luminous bodies from which the arts once radiated, never to be reunited. And even they, with all their success in these arts severally, were examples of our other position—instances of that law of nature by which the arts, once developed, cease to act in harmony. Of course, however, this is less observable in such rare instances of concentration than in the coalition of different arts practised by different professors, each professor making the most of his own art, each art struggling for the first place, with no subordination such as is required to combine them in one symmetrical body. Thus it was only while the assistant arts were undeveloped that architecture, the master art, could mould them to submission in its service. Painting shook off its allegiance, renounced conventionally, and all its obedience to what was not nature, though it might be something more; and though the immediate result was seen in the productions of the divine' Raffaelle, it was a rebellious divinity : painting was no longer the handmaid of architecture, nor, in a short time, of Religion. Sculpture, again, while contented with retirement in a gothic niche, not seeking to be prominent, exposed, and great, but purely supplementary to architecture, served that art efficiently without raising its
own professors to great eminence. But sculpture too climbed to the position of an independent and perfected art, and then ceased to aid the source which gave it birth. Hence it seems as if each art demands an exclusive and unreserved devotion to bring it to a degree of excellence, which, when attained, breaks it from the parent stem like an overladen branch of fruit, and that a well-proportioned system of the arts in their highest state is not granted for the embellishment of the church on earth.
Now there is a connexion between all these remarks and the work we are discussing, though our readers may have sought it hitherto in vain. We have stated them as an introduction to, and, perhaps we may say, an apology for, certain positions of the author, which may seem unsatisfactory to some who yet must consider the opinions of one so deeply versed in his subject as authoritative. We think that, though the author's views, on the whole, appear deliberate, well-grounded, and just, still an amateur devoted peculiarly to one branch of art, and to whom, as we may suppose, the interests of that one branch are paramount, cannot complain if his statements are taken cum grano salis by those whose survey of art, though less minute, is more general and comprehensive. At the same time, so carefully are the opinions of this book supported by observation and reasoning, that â hasty dissent is not unlikely to be reversed upon an examination of the facts and arguments adduced.
The work is divided into two principal divisions, viz. I.Rules to point out the leading distinctions of the various styles of glass-painting, and, II. Observations on the present state of the art, and suggestions for its application to particular purposes, and as to the best means for its advancement. At the very outset, the author, (in the preface), gives some intimation of the way in which he intends to limit the connexion between the first and second divisions of his subject, when he asserts that 'it is an error to suppose that glass-painting cannot be properly
exercised without a strict recurrence, in all respects, to the practice of the middle ages. The division of styles adopted follows Mr. Rickman's Architectural Nomenclature for the most part, commencing with the early English style, which includes what little Norman glass exists, followed by the decorated and perpendicular periods, with the addition of the Cinque Cento style, (that of the 16th century), and what is here called the Intermediate style -- that is, the period of unsuccessfullyattempted revival of the older styles, which is the questionable boast of our own times.
Now each of these periods had its own method of execution on which its distinctive effect depended, and these methods