Tim Ayers gives a guided tour of some of Oxford's best-preserved stained glass.
(01) Virgin and Child. Col. Pl. 1. C. Parkinson.
The shimmering luminosity of this panel, painted in the early fifteenth century, exploits to the full the translucency of the stained glass medium. Standing originally over the entrance to Merton College chapel from the public street, the Virgin and Child were once at the centre of a giant composition, perhaps a Tree of Jesse, setting out Christ’s incarnation as the fulfilment of prophecy, and his royal ancestry in the Old Testament. They are preserved today in the east window of the choir.
(02) St Nicholas. Col. Pl. 11. NMR
The rich colour of this panel, showing St Nicholas, is typical of English glass painting in the early fourteenth century, particularly the glowing ruby (or red) glass. It is part of the glazing in the choir of Merton College chapel, one of the best preserved schemes of this date in England. Recent research in the college archives suggests that it was made by a glazier called William of Thame, who may also be named in contemporary charters from this Oxfordshire town, making him one of the better documented English medieval glass painters. The work of his glazing team can be seen elsewhere in the region.
(03) Lamb of God. Col. Pl. 30a.
‘Behold the Lamb of God’ proclaims the Latin inscription above the sacrificial lamb in this panel of late fourteenth-century stained glass from the great medieval library of Merton College. The words of St John the Baptist hail Christ as the Son of God and anticipate his sacrifice for mankind. The panel is part of the oldest surviving scheme of glazing for any English library, combining large quantities of clear glass, for reading, with an image that evoked the college itself. The chapel was dedicated to St John the Baptist.
(04) Sight. Col. Pl. 32c. Author
This representation of Sight, a man reading a book, is from a set of small panels painted on glass, showing the five senses. Originally in the windows of St Alban Hall, Oxford, the panels are unusual examples of post-medieval glass painting on a domestic scale. They were made (it is not known where) in the second half of the eighteenth or early nineteenth century, after compositions by the Dutch artist David Teniers the Younger (1610 - 1690). Now in the Bradley Library of the Old Warden’s Lodgings at Merton College, they are among the least known of the college’s magnificent painted glass.
The research from which these captions derive was published recently for the British Academy by Oxford University Press: T. Ayers, The Medieval Stained Glass of Merton College, Oxford, Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi, VI, London, 2013.