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The Art of Light
Stained Glass in the City of London



Report of the lecture given by Alexandra Epps
on June 22nd 2016



This lecture was linked to the DFAS visit to London in July 2014 where a guided tour of Wren’s Churches and the City of London’s Churches was given.
Alexandra Epps was introduced to us as a highly qualified and experienced individual who later confessed to being a nerd who was obsessed with stained glass!  Her passion for this subject as well as her infinite knowledge off topic was clear from the start.  With no notes, she took us on a visual voyage through the art of stained glass in the City.

The lecture concentrated on the churches reformed by Sir Christopher Wren (who didn’t actually like stained glass) that were either destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666, by The Blitz in 1940 or both.  This meant we were to look at post-war artists, some of whom used the re-build and restoration projects as a memorial to these two major events.

Christopher Webb (1886 – 1966) and his brother Geoffrey Webb are two prominent figures in modern stained glass.  Webb studied the art of drawing at The Slade under the prolific Henry Tonks.
The first window we were shown is from 1959 and can be seen in St Lawrence Jewry which is next to the Guildhall, the official church of the Lord Mayor of London.  Webb’s style can be clearly seen in these windows through his large use of clear glass which is likely to be a nod to Wren and his disapproval of stained glass.

Brian Thomas (1912 – 1989) had a much denser style and used a lot of yellow in his windows.  An example of Thomas’s work can be seen in St Vedas alias Foster and tells the story of St Vedas who was an early French bishop in the Frankish realm.  Thomas used many symbols in his work including the lion and the lamb for strength and vulnerability, pelicans which symbolise sacrifice and peacocks as a symbol for resurrection.
St Sepulchre without Newgate (1963) is where Thomas used the central portion of the window for the main characters and around the outside for smaller symbols.  This window is beautifully detailed and includes different facets of colour.
Also worth noting is that the only stained glass in St Paul’s Cathedral was designed by Thomas.

Lawrence Lee (1909 – 2011) who studied at the Royal College of Art has a more modern dynamic style which Alexandra called “medieval with a modern twist”.  His work can be seen in St Mary Aldermary (1952) which is Wren’s only Gothic church.  This window is not as dense in pattern and you are able to read the detail in it, which also incorporates the use of lettering.  Lee mainly used a mix of history with religious iconography in his very clear style.

Max Nauta (1897 – 1957) designed a window for The Dutch Church in 1954 after it was completely destroyed in WW11.  It is an absolutely stunning window with vivid colours and rich detail and tells the story of the church.

John Hayward (1927 – 2007) created drama in his windows with an obvious influence from mosaic.  His window in St Mary le Bow is a true city window and combined religion, history and architecture.  Alexandra explained that red is a colour often avoided in large quantity because it can be too overbearing but Hayward was clever and if you looked closely, he has broken up the areas with the use of pale reds, yellows and clear glass.
The windows in St Michael Paternoster Royal (from 1968) were clearly Hayward’s and the thick black lines created an overwhelming piece of art with striking angles.  The use of red for bad and gold for good is also quite obvious.

Keith New (1925 – 2012) used a coiled expressive thick black line style.  His work in St Nicholas Cole Abbey, which has now been turned into a café, bursts out at you and shows the message of God being spread across the world.
St Stephen Walbrook was one of Wren’s most beautiful churches with a dome that was said to be a trial run for the one at St Paul’s.  New’s window from 1958 was taken out when the restorator decided it wasn’t suited to the building so it can now be seen in Norwich Cathedral.

In conclusion, Christopher Webb has to be my favourite artist due to his beautiful simplicity and the detail he has managed to get on the faces in the windows.  My favourite window however is the one in The Dutch Church purely because of the colour and, no matter how big or small you look at it, it is still stunning!

A thoroughly enjoyable lecture by Epps who finished by advising us to go back and visit these churches again in a “new light”!

Louise Taylor

Related Link (opens in new window):

Alexandra Epps website