Canterbury Cathedral Stained Glass at The Cloisters



Moving and shipping art is nerve racking. Even if the object itself is resilient as a plush toy there’s always the possibility of loss or damage. Safely and securely shipping six huge stained glass windows from England’s Canterbury Cathedral, to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and then on to the Cloisters here in New York is almost too daunting for us to imagine. These delicate masterpieces hadn’t left the cathedral since they were installed between 1178-80.

Why chance such an expedition? Repairs to the cathedral had begun. Stonework necessitated their removal, but also offered the opportunity to conserve the glass. Afterwards, instead of waiting in storage the cathedral’s director of stained glass, Léonie Seliger, and Grace Ayson, from the team of conservators personally accompanied the windows to the U.S. for exhibition.

The repairs are amazing--here a simple bow of wire soldered in place to support a broken piece.

The repairs are amazing–here a simple bow of wire soldered in place to support a broken piece.

The 6 life-sized figures on display are from among 43 that have survived from the 85 originals. They represent the genealogy of Christ. Included in “Radiant Light, Stained Glass from Canterbury Cathedral at The Cloisters” are Abraham, Jareth, Lamech, Noah, Phalec, and Thara. Thara definitely seems like a dodgy character. He looks out of the corner of his eye while turning away as if he’s about to be caught or accused of something vile. Sure enough, he came from Ur, a city in Mesopotamia. As the wall tag explains, the place “was considered a hotbed of paganism.” On the other hand, Noah seems like a reliable guy. He confidently gestures as if in conversation, feet both firmly placed. If you had a major task to assign you could count on Noah to come through. These are gorgeous works, and the visual clues—dress, posture, expression—that reveal their individual characters make them especially fun to examine.

The opportunity to see these treasures in the U.S. probably won’t happen again for another 800+ years. They’ll be on view til May 18. Spring is set to burst forth and the various gardens in and around the Cloisters are just starting to bloom. Plan your visit soon.

We decided to use this occasion to pay particular attention to the stained glass permanently installed at the Cloisters as well. It’s a gory collection of horrors… you’ll see the “Blinding of Zaleucus of Locria”! “Souls Tormented in Hell”! Death with a Peasant, a Prince, and a Pope”! and more!

Stained glass on permanent display.

Stained glass on permanent display.

Finally, we happen to know a few stained glass artists that we think are pretty terrific. If you’d like to see what the current state of the art and craft of stained glass is then check them out:

Joseph Cavalieri – We featured an exquisite portrait of  King Henri III of France by Joseph in our group exhibition “Dividing Light, Measuring Darkness”.

Joseph’s work is playful, irreverent and possesses a strong graphic sensibility. Artists should page through his blog for career advice too.

Barbara Meise was one of the first artists we met when we moved to downtown JC. Her own work and her restoration expertise are in tremendous demand. She was profiled recently in Jersey City Independent.

Sasha Zhitneva was combining stained glass with plastic bottles when we showed one of her pieces in The Fool’s Journey. She continues to think through her medium in intriguing ways.


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