Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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The Story of Welsh Art: the Llanrhaeadr Jesse window

A new television series on art in Wales began its journey through the centuries on 1 March 2021. The three-part series is the first to look at the long history of art in Wales since Peter Lord’s wonderful series The Big Picture, broadcast more than twenty years ago, and will also make its way to television screens in Yorkshire, Argyll, Antrim and Kent as the first series on Welsh art to air across the UK (on BBC4, which wasn’t an option in 1999).

The Story of Welsh Art doesn’t hang about, and having walked the viewer into Barclodiad y Gawres on Anglesey to see Neolithic markings at the beginning of the programme, the presenter, Huw Stephens, is discussing eighteenth-century portraiture with Peter Lord within an hour.

Large stained glass window, depicting Jesse and Old Testament kings and prophets.
Tree of Jesse, 1533, Church of St Dyfnog, Llanrhaeadr-yng-Nghinmeirch

With so few stops along the way it was good to contribute to the programme and help to bring stained glass into the story in an interview with Huw that was held in front of the big window depicting ‘Tree of Jesse‘ at the Church of St Dyfnog, Llanrhaeadr-yng-Nghinmeirch. Although there is a good deal of late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century stained glass in north-east Wales, there isn’t time in the programme to cover any more of it. The Llanrhaeadr Jesse is a really significant work – near complete and with a characterisation in the faces (below left) that is more sophisticated than in the slightly earlier stained glass at Gresford and Llandyrnog – pointing to new directions in the medium that were cut short by the Reformation.

There are two other near-complete windows in the area, one of which is another window of the same subject at Dyserth, which was, remarkably, made within a year of the Llanrhaeadr window, and the other is the window with scenes from the Life of the Virgin Mary at Gresford. Both of these windows are about eighty percent complete, but neither have as much colour as the Llanrhaedr Jesse. The loss of the Jesse figure at the foot of the window at Dyserth leaves his tree rootless, and although some of the kings (below right) are impressive close-up, they lack the definition from a distance compared to those at Llanrhaeadr.

The next two episodes in The Story of Welsh Art focus on the period from the later eighteenth century up to the present, but I don’t expect that we will see any more stained glass in either of them. Although stained glass emerged so strongly from the mid-nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, it has often been neglected by art historians and drowned out by the painting that remains central to the popular perception of art.

The piece that we recorded at Llanrhaeadr was coupled with another section in the programme on the medieval carving of the figure of Jesse at Abergavenny, but I doubt that there will be a return to the church to discuss Helen Whittaker’s ‘Tree of Jesse‘, installed in 2016 behind the medieval sculpture, in the final episode. I’m sure Huw Stephens and the production team at Wildflame will be among the first to concede that there is plenty more Welsh art waiting to be broadcast on our television screens.

Margaret Rope

Virgin & Child.

Detail of a window by Margaret Rope, about 1934, Church of St Mary and St Michael, Llanarth (Monmouthshire)

Interesting piece on Radio Four today about Margaret Agnes Rope. The main thrust of the piece is that this excellent artist has been totally ignored, but the same can be said of many other Arts and Crafts artists working in stained glass in the tradition of Christopher Whall and Lowndes & Drury. And many others before and after their time.

Her work is not ignored in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, in which two of her windows are shown, one of which is full height. I also included a full page detail of her sister’s window (Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope) at Esclusham, Wrexham.

Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2015 to anyone passing by in the next day or two.

Radio Pembrokeshire

Visited Narberth again yesterday to record a short conversation with Revd Peter Lewis’ for his Sunday morning programme for Radio Pembrokeshire, to be broadcast Sunday 19 October, between 7.00 and 8.00.

I talked a little bit about the stained glass in Tenby and was surprised that my mind went blank when he asked me about other good examples of stained glass in Pembrokeshire. My first thought was of Little Newcastle, and all the modern work there by Roy Lewis, Caroline Loveys and John Edwards, but then I couldn’t think of much. But there is plenty of interest elsewhere in the county, which is represented in the book, for example churches (Anglican and Roman Catholic) and some chapels, at Fishguard, Cilgerran, Haverfordwest, Talbenny, Pembroke and Pembroke Dock, Castlemartin (recently closed), Manorbier and Narberth itself. As well as these there is the work by Dom. Theodore Baily on Caldey Island, used as the cover illustration: not easy to forget, but I did. As well as these there is plenty of good stained glass in many other churches that I have visited, and others that I haven’t yet been to.

Stained glass window with Christ in the midst of children.

James Powell & Sons, Christ with Children, 1923, designed by Ernest Penwarden, Church of St James, Manorbier

Pictured here, but not in the book, is Christ in the midst of children, representing the members of Sketty Church Bible Class, who camped in Manorbier early in the twentieth century. Behind the group is a view of Manorbier Castle.

Radio Wales Arts Show

It was good to have an opportunity to mention the book on BBC Radio Wales once again this afternoon, this time with Nicola Heywood-Thomas on the weekly Radio Wales Arts Show. The short interview was mainly about the exhibition in Narberth, but offered the opportunity to talk about the pieces in stained glass and the book as well.

The broadcast is available on the BBC website to listen again for a short period.

Radio Wales

I am looking forward to speaking to Eleri Sion on Radio Wales this afternoon about stained glass in Wales. Fortunately it is a short walk up to the BBC studio on the Aberystwyth University campus.

Around 2008 I was surprised when a few people, who knew me from my work on the Imaging the Bible in Wales project, introduced me as a photographer, as photography proved to be an important part of my contribution to the project. Trained in Fine Art and graduating in Interactive Arts in the 1990s, I have tended to think of myself as an artist, as a ‘catch all’ to encompass people who make images of all kinds. Recently I have often styled myself ‘Artist, Designer and Photographer’, partly as a way to try and get work that might not come my way if I were just an ‘artist’ (and I didn’t think ‘art historian’ would be much help here). It had occurred to me that having written a book, people might now start to call me an author, with all the connotations and resonances that this brings, and so it has come to pass. The subtitle on the BBC website reads:

‘Artist and author Martin Crampin introduces Eleri to the art of stained glass.’