Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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Depicting St David

Books on stained glass and other ecclesiastical arts from the modern period tend to focus on an artist, studio or designer, on a period or movement, or on a single church or region. This new book does something different, and approaches the field by way of subject matter and iconography, in this case the imagery of a single saint.

dewisant-clawrAbout 170 images of David are depicted in the book, from 1840 up to 2015, and most are from churches from across Wales. Some are found in churches that are now closed.

It is common for writers on stained glass to note the tendency of artists and studios to reuse designs and cartoons, and occasionally illustrate examples, as I did in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches. This book provided the opportunity to illustrate the reuse of designs by Heaton, Butler & Bayne, Morris & Co., Shrigley & Hunt, Burlison & Grylls and Robert Newbery, demonstrating that cartoons were not always copied exactly, and were sometimes subject to very different treatments. 

For example, after going through all of the images of David that I have found, none of standing figures of St David by C.E. Kempe and his studio reuse the same design, although they are more than twenty in number. By contrast, I have identified eight figures of David by Robert Newbery that all use the same cartoon, which highlights two in particular that do not, in churches at Neath and Llansamlet. Initially I thought that there was a third ‘different’ image of David by Newbery at the Church of St Catherine, Pontypridd, in the west window. Having visited the church a few years ago, where the windows all bore the hallmarks of Newbery, I had assumed that all of the windows in the church were by him (except an obviously new work by Nicola Hopwood), although I was struck by the striking colour and quality of the west window. However, in the process of bringing together all of the images that I had found of David, I discovered that the figure of David in the west window at Pontypridd exactly matched another by Percy Bacon at Monkton Priory, thereby identifying this studio as the manufacturer of the west window at Pontypridd, and not Newbery. I nearly left the Monkton window out, but found a corner for it on my further reading page.

(see update below)

I have just recorded a piece about the book for ‘All Things Considered’, which is broadcast on Radio Wales. Among the things that I was asked was whether I might be annoyed if others wrote to me with further images of David that I had not included (making the assumption that all of the known images of David were illustrated in the book). I have well over a hundred further images of David on my list that there was not space to include, although the inclusion of some of them might have made the book itself rather repetitive, like the cartoons of stained glass. But there are certainly more to be found – as large or incidental figures in windows, and on reredoses and pulpits in various media. Many that I have come across were found by surprise, as probably less than half are documented in any published sources. As I continue to visit churches around Wales I am still finding more, and there are also more to be found outside Wales, although I have not the opportunity to research them.

Depicting St David is now available from the publisher, Y Lolfa, for £7.99 and will shortly be in bookshops, in time for 1 March, Gŵyl Dewi Sant, St David’s Day.

Update 2 September 2020

In the process of reviewing the references to windows by Percy Bacon Brothers at Monkton Priory, I returned to look again at my photographs of the various windows in the church. In the list of windows published by the British Society of Master Glass Painters of work produced by members in the previous twenty years (1930), windows by Percy Bacon include a series of windows in the chapel at Monkton Priory, and a four-light window (of the four evangelists) in the tower. The listing does not include the saints Nicholas, John, Alban and David in a very similar style, although the list makes no claims to be comprehensive, and is not.

It was my attribution of these four saints at Monkton Priory to Percy Bacon that made me reconsider the west window at Pontypridd, and attribute this to Percy Bacon as well, instead of Robert Newbery as I had assumed. The omission of the four saints from the list of windows by Percy Bacon made me look very closely at them and compare their treatment of the faces, the poses of the figures, the decorative detail and the lettering with others more securely attributable to Percy Bacon (at least one of which is signed). While they were close to the evangelists at the same church, I have come to the conclusion that I can find better matches for these elements in other windows by Robert Newbery of around 1920.

It therefore seems to me that my last-minute change of attribution for the image of David in the west window at Church of St Catherine, Pontypridd, was incorrect, and that this is in fact a design from Robert Newbery’s studio.