Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wexford Sights: Stained Glass (I)

Stained glass remains a sadly underrated and under-utilised medium in art, primarily because of its high cost to produce, its association with decorative and ecclesiastical settings, and the very low quality, aesthetically speaking, of most stained glass work. Location also presents a problem: anyone wishing to see a lot of Harry Clarke's work, for example, must travel to destinations all over the country and beyond, and holding a retrospective would involve removing (often enormous) windows from functioning churches (which also means seeing them out of context). I love stained glass; the sheer beauty of the colour as the sunlight pours through a fine window is a magnificent experience. Anyway, seeing as I have an awful lot of photos of stained glass windows from all over County Wexford (only those in the remote north and west parts have escaped me so far), I'd like to share some of them with my faithful readers. None of them (aside from one or two of the Harry Clarkes) come even close to great art, but they are interesting (to me at least), and that's good enough for me.
The above image is from the Askamore Catholic parish church, a remote place in north-west Wexford. This window dates from the 1930s, and is fairly typical of the period, but I have no idea who executed it, as there's no signature (possibly Earley & Co?). It shows the clear influence of Harry Clarke in the texture of the drapery, and the shape and seemingly arbitrary multi-coloured panes around the central figure have the unfortunate tendency of making it look like a jukebox. It is behind the balcony that faces the altar; obviously at some point the balcony was raised, partially blocking the window, and pews have been placed across it, as can be seen from the top photo. It's a shame, because not a bad little window, but that's not the worst example of this; in Tagoat church, a large three-light window has had an pipe organ placed in front of it, blocking a large section of the composition. (I'm also intrigued by the sentence fragment: "My Jesus Mercy"?) The rest of the windows are more modern, and much less interesting (colourless stained glass is about as interesting as white sliced bread, to be honest).
The images below come from the Catholic church in Craanford, about ten miles or so from Askamore. These windows are the only stained glass in the church, and are behind the altar.The colours are superb, especially when the light hits them right, but there is little in the way of inspiration or excitement; they are simply decorative illustrations in glass made by businessmen to fill a niche in the market. I've included them because they are typical examples of the kind of glass favoured by late Victorian churches and turned out by commercial companies such as Mayers of Munich. In the church-building boom of the Victorian era, stained-glass manufacture was very lucrative!

And if you find this all too boring, here's something a wee bit funky:


jams o donnell said...

I am very fond of stained glass too. Even when not of the highest artistic quality it will add something.

Most catholic churches I've visited in Britain and Ireland are architectuarl horrors. The stained glass, if any, is easily the best part of them

A Doubtful Egg said...

You're right there, Jams! There are a few nice ones hidden around here and there (Oulart church, just up the road from me, is very nice outside, and tastefully decorated inside), but most Catholic churches range from the dreary to the unspeakable; not helped, in Ireland anyway, by the tendency to plaster or pebbledash the exteriors, then rip out the historical and interesting features inside to make the churches more "modern" (wasn't it Vatican II that was responsible for that tendency?). And that's not even mentioning the unspeakably kitschy painted statues...