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Posts tagged ‘Stained glass’

Transforming the Gothic – colour sensation in the Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca

Some of architecture’s most stunning successes can be found in religious buildings. The eternal repetition of the forest of pink and white marble pillars in Cordoba’s La Mesquita is one of the most enthralling sights of the ancient Islamic world, while at the centre of the Catholic world, the sheer scale and magnificence of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican makes it clear to all who come close that this place is the all powerful centre of Christianity. In Roman times, religion was the instigator of some of the most brilliant of all architectural creations, such as the ground-breaking single expanse dome of the ancient Pantheon temple in Rome, while in more modern times, it has inspired some of the most jaw-dropping creations ever made by man, such as the stunning realisation of a creative genius: Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Nevertheless, when you think about the religious treasures of the world, you will find that proportionately few of them are gothic. The reason for this is  clear:  the gothic style is largely synonymous with austerity, with its soaring naves and high-winged buttresses leading to vast expanses of cold space; gothic churches are more often places of fear, with their grim faced gargoyles and sinister dark angels, and even Paris’s Notre Dame, surely one of the most famous examples of gothic architecture, is better associated with the haunting tale of a hunchback living within the cathedral’s inhospitable bell towers than with any illusion that the church is in any aesthetic sense a thing of beauty. Yet while this idea of the gothic has long lingered in my mind, all of my pre-held conceptions about gothic architecture were challenged last weekend when in Palma de Mallorca, capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands, I realised just how stunning the gothic can be.

La Seu’s imposing gothic exterior

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Palma’s Cathedral, known locally as La Seu, is indeed a masterpiece of the catholic gothic style. Completed in 1601, it is a soaring vast temple to christianity, with a dominant position over the waterfront of Palma, and comprising the 7th highest nave in the world. But what makes this palace of gothic architecture different from all of the other churches of the genre, enabling it to dispel the associations of dark, dank solemnity which is inherent in the gothic style, is colour. Pure, dazzling, multi-coloured samplings from every stretch of the rainbow. For in Palma’s Cathedral, there is not a single clear pane of glass. Rather, its many windows are fitted with coloured stained glass so rich in its vivacity and complexity, that when the sun shines on the outside of the cathedral (which it invariably does in Mallorca), the result on the inside is to fill every gothic stone and structure, ever eave and buttress, every flag stone and pew with the most dazzling multi-coloured light.

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The effect is astounding, and dispels every known stereotype about gothic architecture, which is utterly transformed under the warming dazzle of a hundred shades of multi-coloured light. At times, when you are looking directly into the light as it shines through one of the cathedral’s impressive stained glass windows, a moment of epiphany overcomes you, as everywhere you look you see shards of colour bouncing across the vast space. If that was the intention of the architects, it is an objective universally achieved, so that you leave the cathedral if not religiously converted then certainly spiritually touched.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Prague (Part 4): Baroque Brilliance and a Stained Glass Symphony

Having spent my first day in Prague thoroughly put out at the bad customer service, the horrendous gangs of British stag parties cluttering up the best squares and cafes, and the poor state into which the city has so often been left to decline, I started my second day afresh, determined to focus on the beauty for which the city is otherwise famed. For you don’t need to look far beyond the tourist hoards and the badly serviced cafés to find what everyone is making all the fuss about: a city filled with beautiful bubbling baroque sculptures, elegant architectural amplifications, pastel coloured building facades and a skyline littered with turrets and cupolas of every shape and size.

While last week’s photo post concentrated on the art nouveau which replaced vast swathes of the “new” town and Jewish Quarter at the turn of the 20th century, today’s turns more to the predominant feature of the city – the endlessly extravagant, unapologetically dramatic artistic showpiece that is the Baroque.

And it is everywhere. Perhaps the most famous sight of the city’s baroque virtuosity is the Charles Bridge. This pedestrianised bridge harks from the 14th century, and is a mecca for tourists and street musicians, artists and souvenir sellers; and there is little surprise why that may be. For on each of its 30 pillars stands a statue so superbly executed in the baroque fashion that it is more than rival for the Ponte Sant’Angelo in Rome, whose Bernini sculptures this collection was intended to emulate. With depictions ranging from the patron saint of the city, St Wenceslas, to a 17th century crucifixion adorned by hebrew words forcibly paid for by a Jew as punishment for blasphemy, the bridge is an art gallery to some of history’s best sculpture. It’s just a shame they are all too filthy to be properly appreciated. Yet two of the sculptures in particular are in need of less cleaning, so polished are they by the hands of tourists who touch them repeatedly in the hope of the luck they may bring.

The Charles Bridge

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We resisted touching the sculptures – the queues to do so would have taken up half the day after all, and instead crossed over the bridge to the area of Prague they call “the Little Quarter”. The Little Quarter (Mala Strana) is indeed quite little in terms of scale compared with the grander “new town” across the Charles Bridge with its multi-storey classical faces and gilded theatres and boulevards. Here, the streets are all together more charming, with shorter pastel coloured buildings, cobbles and even little canals which separate the mainland from the little Kampa Island. There in turn are little relaxed gardens from which views of the city can be caught from shady benches, and beyond those, small cobbled squares are gently decaying as their paint flakes away and the whole place feels laid back and somniferous.

But amongst those small streets is one building which certainly does not match the title “Little”. For with its imposing great dome and matching campanile, the Church of St Nicholas is no shrinking violet. Rather, it is the next stop on the tour of baroque jems, for as the baroque goes, it doesn’t get much more extravagant that this church. Built by father and son architects Christoph and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer, Prague’s greatest exponents of the High Baroque, the church is filled with an outlandishly extravagant array of excessive decoration, with gold capitals, marble pillars, great towering statues of popes and bishops, and cherubs everywhere you look filling the space. Although amusingly enough, scratch beneath the surface of all this opulence and you notice that much of it is mere theatre: the marble pillars are actually painted plaster; the gilded details simply painted gold. But then wasn’t the baroque all about the first stunning moment of theatre, when your breath is audibly taken away by the magnificence of the scene created?

The baroque spectacle of St Nicholas’ Church

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And talking of theatre, we couldn’t help noticing the latest Chinese craze of wedding couples getting married in China and then travelling to Europe to photograph themselves in full wedding regalia in front of some of Europe’s most famous monuments. We saw this couple all over prague – wherever we went, so did they, and their camera, their photographer and their make-up team…

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As the day went on, we felt ourselves becoming steadily baroque-saturated, and as the sun made its daily passage across the skies, it was to Prague Castle where we ascended, the great complex of royal palaces and the city’s main cathedral, St Vitus, and it was there where we laid witness to what must be one of the city’s greatest artistic treasures of all – its stained glass windows. When you walk into St Vitus (having queued like us for almost an hour to get tickets from the ridiculously inefficient ticket desk), you are almost overcome by the coloured light that fills the place. For in each of the cathedral’s large windows is stained glass in a panoply of colours, and depicting scenes of stunning detail which is just brought alive by the light shining through it, projecting the image like in a cinema across the imposing stone interior.

Stained glass symphony

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My favourite of all the windows has to be that designed by famous Czech art nouveau artist Mucha towards the end of his life, and many of the photos here feature that brilliant design. But here too are a selection of the other windows, both old and new, all exhibiting a kaleidoscope of colour which was incredible to behold. But just in case we had forgotten it, the trusty Baroque made sure that it had its day inside the cathedral as well, as these photos of the sensational royal mausoleum of Ferdinand I, and the opulent tomb of St John Nepomok aptly demonstrate.

Mucha’s window

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St Vitus’ baroque

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

York’s Stained Glass Sensation

My love affair with Yorkshire stained glass started in St Helen and the Holy Cross in the little Yorkshire town of Sheriff Hutton. I was attending the wedding of my dear friend Celia and her husband to be, Tarquin. Asides from being dazzled by the highly unsurprising beauty of the bride, and the elegance of a church bursting with autumnal flowers, berries and warming candles, I was mesmerised by the occasional burst of multi-colour flooding into the little stone church through its wonderfully intricate stained glass windows. Depicting biblical tales with exquisite attention to detail, I stared in wonderment at this unexpected artistic gem set within the ancient walls of very small local church.

The Sheriff Hutton windows

But this was only the start. The following day, drunk on the exuberance of the blissful wedding celebrations of the previous day, I stumbled into the cobbled idyllic streets of York’s medieval centre. The town is a chocolate-box paradise of Dickensian British charm – there were little teddybear shops in creaky crooked houses, oak-framed windows glittering with Halloween and Christmas paraphernalia, and the world famous Betty’s tearoom, with its delightfully old fashioned shop downstairs, manned by two perfectly polite, tie-wearing shop assistants, straight out of Victoriana. But wherever you go in this picturesque little town, the imposing gothic structure of the immense York Minster is never far away.

Having had our fill of Betty’s tea room, and of course a requisite Yorkshire pudding, we headed straight for the Minster. The Minster is an impressively sized and decorated Cathedral, and one of the largest of its kind in Europe. It is in  fact the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, with its present architecture dating back from 1230. Unsurprisingly, the cathedral is rich in its gothic decorations, its medieval carvings of creatures and kings, its shrines and chapel, its intricate choir stalls and equally sumptuous organ pipes. But above all things the Minster is famous for its exquisite stained glass, and of those there are many.

Upon entering the Minster, we initially gawped at the entrance fee – £9, not including a tour of the tower, although owing to the gloom which had descended upon the city, we thought it was probably safe to give that a miss. Having bought our tickets, and swallowed the cost, we began to understand why the admission price was so high. Not only is the cathedral brilliantly preserved, with interactive displays for the visitor and a host of curiosities and architectural splendor to view, the Minster is undergoing a major renovation of those very same windows for which it is so famed.

The “orb”

The windows, which are the largest examples of surviving medieval stained glass windows in the world, are a spectacular display of medieval craftsmanship. Some 2 million individually painted pieces of glass make up the cathedral’s 128 stained glass windows which need constant renovation and cleaning in order to preserve the masterpieces for future generations. However, so often it is impossible to fully appreciate the true intricate beauty of a window on this scale, from the ground. On our visit however, we were in luck. Of all the windows, the most stunning is the Great East Window, the likes of which was undergoing renovation when we visited. Usually this would be cause for complaint, but not so on our visit – rather, having opened a new “orb” to display freshly renovated panels from the great window, we were afforded the invaluable opportunity to study the intricacies of the windows, lit from behind, in all their detailed beauty.

The results can be seen from these photos I took inside the orb. It’s hard to believe that these intrinsically contemporary images stem from the medieval period, with their gorgeous details such as leafy damask backgrounds, radiant angelic faces, and the use of vibrant coloured glass which, when cleaned, gleams to stunning effect. I was so overawed by the beauty of these windows that I felt compelled to devote an entire post to their glory – how sad that the entire window cannot always be so admired in its details. But without a stairwell allowing visitors to reach the top of the window and the various levels in between, there will inevitably be beautiful panels such as these which will forever be confined to the sky-like heights of the cathedral, viewed in detail only by those charged with the window’s renovation. How fantastic then was this opportunity to see a few of those panels up close. Suddenly that £9 entrance fee seemed excellent value.

The orb will remain at York Minster until 2015. The restoration of the Great East Window is expected to be completed by the summer of 2016.