Swiss Stained Glass from the
On 6 July, 2010 opening of the exhibition, prepared by the State Hermitage, which introduces to the art of Swiss stained glass of the 16th-18th centuries took place in Rooms of the Winter Palace (169-173). The exhibition includes seventy best examples of stained glass of the Swiss school which represent genre and technological diversity of the Hermitage collection.
Stained glass is window glass, composed of multicolored spin-dyed pieces of glass, fastened with plumbic rods. In the period of its origination it imitated mosaic and in the Middle Ages it became an independent kind of decorative and applied arts. In the basis of the painted glass manufacturing there was a graphical source by which the stained glass was made. The Masters of the Middle Ages considered graphical samples as incidental material. When by the end of the 15th century the drawing had become self-sufficient, independent sphere of application of creative power of the artist, famous painters and gravers as the authors for the projects of painted glass. In the 16th century project drawings for the stained glass were made by such famous masters as Albrecht Durer, Hans Holbein Junior, Lucas van Leyden.
Plots for the Swiss stained glass were not only traditional Evangelic and Biblical motives but various details from people’s life that made it a valuable historic source. The Reformation played not the last role in the process of forming of the stained glass of the 16th-18th centuries: construction of large luxurious cathedrals almost stopped and due to this the demand for large stained glass windows ceased. So called “cabinet stained glass” which may be used for social buildings came to replace them.
The Hermitage collection includes the stained glass of all major types, determined by the researchers, they are: illustrative stained glass, Bildscheibe; armorial stained glass, Wappenscheibe; figurative stained glass, Figurenscheibe; salutation stained glass, Willkommscheibe; wedding stained glass, Allianzwappenscheibe; stained glass with the standard bearer, Bannertragerscheibe; stained glass for entry into service, Stifterscheibe; peasant stained glass, Bauernscheibe; magistrate stained glass, Amterscheibe.
The major part of the collection is made up of illustrative stained glass (type Bildscheibe), the main image of which are made on the basis of the specific plot.
Armorial stained glass (type Wappenscheibe) compositionally makes an extremely varied group of images. The main element of their image is coats of arms, which are often accompanied with different figures of chargers (saints or king’s beasts). One of the characteristic features of Switzerland is the fact that besides noblemen all those who held government employment could have their own coats of arms. That is why the specific characteristic of the stained glass art of this country was introduction of heraldry attributes into the composition of the painted glass. Wide spread got the painted glass with images of coats of arms and standards of towns and regions.
A group of the stained glass of great interest is the one the central plot of which repeats the same canonic scene: a dame in a smart dress gives a bowl to the armored warrior. They are so called salutation stained glass (type Willkommscheibe).
Peasant stained glass (type Bauernscheibe) in which, as a rule, the upper panel reflects scenes from rural living is indicative of customer’s origin from prosperous peasants. An interesting example of “combination” of “salutation” and “peasant” stained glass is the painted glass of the Widmers family. The central composition is represented by the canonic couple: a woman gives a bowl to the warrior. It is necessary to mention a rare innovation: children are depicted near the woman. The upper panel represents a genre subject with ox ploughing; at the bottom panel – the coat of arms of the Widmers family and cartouche with explanatory inscription. Silver plough-share in the yellow background in the field of the coat of arms indicates the peasant origin of Widmer, and the inscription explains who is depicted in the donative glass: “Rudolf Widmer from Grenchen and Barbara Murer, his wife. Jacob and Barbara Widmer – his children. 1617.”. This stained glass is referred to a typical “peasant” stained glass, rather characteristic for old Swiss cantons of the 16th-17th centuries.
Magistrate stained glass (type Amterscheibe) is most often of round shape however, rectangular examples may be met. In the center of the composition coats of arms with chargers are placed and around the edge coats of arms of towns and regions are located. Position of Switzerland being the part of “Holy Roman Empire” determined heraldry taxonomy of coats of arms, depicted in the stained glass, at which the imperial coat of arms and its attributes were always depicted above the coats of arms of the Swiss cantons. Nowhere else in Europe such principle of heraldry compositions structure is met.
A considerable part of the Swiss stained glass from the Hermitage collection is devoted to illustrations of Biblical or New Testament plots. Compositions of this painted glass do not have a definite structure. Stained Glass of Jacob Minger. Christ and Pope is of the special interest among them. Its composition is organized as opposition of two pictures on the book opening. On the left scenes from Christ life are depicted, on the right – those of Pope.
One of the directions for study of the Hermitage collection of Swiss stained glass is clearing up the history of this collection formation. First mentioning of the picturesque glass is met in archive records of the Winter Palace for 1827. In general that is orders of the Emperor Nicholas I on shifting of stained glasses in the palaces or on their receipt as gifts. The central window of the Emperor Study in the building of Arsenal was decorated with Swiss stained glass, formerly being the part of the Tatishchev’s collection. In 1886 the Emperor Alexander III ordered to transfer all funds of Arsenal for storage into the Imperial Hermitage. Before the First World War the whole collection of the Swiss stained glass was photographed and transferred to the Historical Museum of Bern as a gift by Count D. I. Tolstoy, Director of the Imperial Hermitage of that time. In 1918 and 1919 the Hermitage collection of Swiss stained glass was replenished with receipts from museums and private collections of Count F.I. Paskevich, Museum of the Artist Encouragement Society, A. K. Rudanovskogo, E. Plume. And in the 1930s at foreign auctions of Hugo Helbing and Theodore Fisher more than 130 excellent examples of painted glass by Swiss masters were sold. The largest collection of stained glass by Swiss school was received by the Hermitage in 1932 after dissolution of the Museum of the Central School of Technical Drawing of Baron Sieglitz (after that the Museum of Baron Steiglitz). Four subscribed items of stained glass came from this museum.
Exhibition curator – Yelena Shlikevich, senior research assistant of the West-European Applied Art Department of the State Hermitage. A scientific Illustrated Catalogue has been prepared for the exhibition (Publishing House of the State Hermitage, 2010).