Faith, Charity & Glass

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The New York Sun

The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, on the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and 35th Street, was built in the 1860s and expanded following an 1882 fire that destroyed its eastern end. This handsome Gothic revival church has a strong corner tower rising to a lovely broached spire.

But the grandeur is within. I have written in this space of a Henry Hobson Richardson-designed memorial inside the church, and the windows are just as special. The church has an almost encyclopedic collection of British and American glass from the late 19th century, all of it installed after the 1882 fire, which apparently destroyed all the church’s glass up to that time.

The art of stained glass gained great popularity in the 19th century as a result of the revival of Gothic architecture and the need for new churches in growing towns and cities. Prosperous New York churches at first liked to import their glass from England, where several large firms stood ready to provide stained glass to a global market. Two such firms were Clayton & Bell and that of Charles Eamer Kempe.

You can see a Clayton & Bell window, depicting St. Paul preaching to the Athenians on Mars Hill, in the south aisle of the Church of the Incarnation, three windows in. A good example of Kempe’s work is the great west window, over the front entrance, showing Christ enthroned in heaven with various saints.

There are far more special windows than these. In the north aisle, the first two windows were produced by the Tiffany Glass Company, as Louis Comfort Tiffany’s stained-glass enterprise was called from 1885 to 1900.These are typical of that firm’s excellent work in opalescent glass.

Three windows on is a window symbolizing Faith and Charity in the persons of the Virgin Mary and Dorcas.This breathtaking window was produced by Henry Holiday, a pre-Raphaelite painter, friend of John Ruskin, and illustrator of the first edition of “Through the Looking-Glass.” Holiday is said to have made this window from a design by his close friend and collaborator Edward Burne-Jones, who was known for serene, otherworldly figures like these.

Across the aisle, opposite the lone transept, are three lancets. The one showing the Christian pilgrim is said to have been designed by Tiffany himself, who with John LaFarge (who contributed both windows and murals to this church) made New York, not London, the world’s center of stained glass by the end of the 19th century.

Produced by the William Morris Company of England, the two lancets each show a column of three angels, with boldly schematic figures and vivid coloration. The great Morris was alive and still running his firm when these windows were made, though it is improbable he had any hand in their design.

There is much more, but this should give you an idea. The church sells a helpful guide-brochure for 25 cents, and is open during nonservice hours every weekday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., on Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings until 7 p.m.

The New York Sun

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