The Arlington Street Church Tiffany Windows
The church’s series of sixteen stained glass windows are unrivaled on many levels. They not only represent a unique narrative program — one that is united in theme— but also one of the longest enduring relationships between the studios and one of their clients.
The eight windows in the sanctuary are drawn from the story of the early life of Jesus. These eight windows do not tell of the divine nature of Jesus, but rather are drawn from episodes that underscore his words and his role as a teacher. Most revealing is the inclusion of “The Sermon on the Mount,” which recounted in the Gospel of Matthew (5:3–12) in which Jesus preaches “The Beatitudes” and includes the Lord’s Prayer. Therefore as one ascends to the balcony, one encounters visual idealizations of Jesus’ teachings on the Mount.
There are six depictions of the Beatitudes on the balcony. In contrast to the atmospheric settings and heightened emotional interactions of the compositions on the main floor, the balcony windows are not storytelling narratives — they are pictorial allegories for the qualities imbued in the words of each Beatitude portrayed. Wilson envisioned the Beatitudes pictorial template with variations — each composition features an angel flanked on either side by a cherub. The sacred passages are inscribed on banderoles, a narrow sculpted band that was common in Renaissance architecture and used for the carrying of inscriptions. While the angels of the Early Life of Christ series are masculine and express authority, these Beatitude images are feminine and compassionate. They are statuesque and otherworldly.
It is impossible to ignore the two plain glass windows on both sides of the balcony. The popularity for stained glass windows waned in the 1920s. Shortly after Tiffany’s retirement, Wilson relocated to California and continued to excel as a glassmaker in Los Angeles. The advent of the Depression found many members of the congregation without the financial means to underwrite these memorial masterworks, and the closing of the Tiffany Studios ended the ability to manufacture opalescent glass of any comparable quality. Therefore these empty windows serve as a legacy to an art form that was one of the utmost creative expressions of Boston’s Gilded Age and the American Renaissance that cannot be recreated.
Who was Louis C. Tiffany?
Born on February 18, 1848, Louis Comfort Tiffany was the son of the well-known and highly successfully Charles Lewis Tiffany (1812–1902) founder of the Tiffany & Company jewelry concern. He began as a fine arts painter and finding little recognition for his art. In the 1870s he turned to interior design. In collaboration with a few other artists he formed the residential decorating firm Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated American Artists. During the early 1880s his business proved to be a great success, and among his clients were Samuel Clemons (Mark Twain), Hamilton Fish, and Cornelius Vanderbilt. His design firm was dissolved in favor of establishing Tiffany Glass Company in 1885.
One of his first experimentation's with stained glass decorating was in his own apartment in New York in 1878, where he incorporated opalescent and confetti glass as well as rough-cut glass jewels. By 1885 his design firm was dissolved in favor of establishing Tiffany Glass Company. By 1893 he had opened his own furnaces in Long Island.
Tiffany took advantage of the church-building frenzy at the end of the 19th century, as in addition to designing ecclesiastical stained glass windows for these new buildings, he also continued to work as designer for their interiors. His main success, however, came through his window designs for a variety of institutions and private residences, and it is recounted that at one point he had more than 5,000 different patterns for window designs in his studios. In 1898 Tiffany merged his interior design expertise with opalescent glass technique by expanding his business to the production of lighting and lampshades.
Who designed the windows at Arlington Street Church?
The most exceptional aspect that unites the Arlington Street Church’s stained glass window series is that they are by the talented hand of Tiffany’s English-born top designer — Frederick Wilson (1858–1932). Similar to Louis Comfort Tiffany, Wilson began his career as a painter. His artistic curiosity led him to turn to a range of sources, ranging from Renaissance art and medieval period ornamentation to contemporary British Pre-Raphaelite movement and anatomical studies.
Wilson came to the United States in 1892, similar to many other English and European glassworkers, to fulfill this country’s increasing demand for stained glass windows. The next year he was employed by Tiffany and become the chief designer for the studios’ ecclesiastical windows in 1899. An incredible draftsman who was keenly observant of the natural world, Wilson had a great interest in the human form in motion and was known for his complex groupings of figures.
These achievements can be attested to in the naturalistic interaction of figures in the Early Life of Jesus series — they capture a precise moment of time with fidelity. He was also celebrated for his depiction of angels and he particularly wanted to be as accurate as possible in his rendering of angel wings. To this end he assiduously studied and sketched the feathered wings of herons and cranes. It is easy to recognize a Wilson angel.
What makes Tiffany windows special and what to look for?
When he became interested in stained glass, Tiffany made a trip to Europe, where he studied records left by the great medieval stained glass artists. He also traveled to Italy, where he visited Venice, one of the great centers of glass blowing. Here he found a technique called “confetti glass,” which he adapted to his own purposes. Confetti glass is created by shattering tissue-thin sheets of colored glass on a metal-topped table, then laying over the resultant shards a sheet of molten glass of another color. If you look among the branches in many of the trees in our windows, you will find that confetti glass has been used to create the impression of tightly-packed blossoms or foliage.
While he was in Europe, Tiffany also came across glass produced by the ancient Romans, which has an iridescent sheen which fascinated him. No one was sure whether the iridescence was an effect created intentionally by the Romans, or the result of the glass having been buried for several thousand years, but Tiffany was so taken by it that when he returned to the US, he set his chemists and glass blowers the task of recreating it in modern glass.
3D Effects-Drapery glass
The folds in the robes of the figures depicted in our windows are actually in the glass. As it came through the rollers, a sheet of molten glass was seized with metal tongs, then twisted and turned to represent draped fabric. This is a distinctive feature of Tiffany windows and is called drapery glass. Most other stained glass artists create this kind of detail by painting onto the glass with black paint, which darkens the windows.
The magnificent stained glass windows of the great cathedrals of Europe were created using glass tinted in primary colors, intense blues, greens, reds, and yellows. Tiffany chose a different palette of colors to produce his “painting in glass,” one that consisted mostly of pastel colors, with more vivid primary colors reserved for accent. (Notice the effect created by the sparing use of red in The Sermon on the Mount #8.)
Opalescent “Favrile” Glass
The generic name for the type of glass used by Tiffany Studios is opalescent glass, which sometimes takes on the appearance of mother-of-pearl. Since most of the color and detail in a Tiffany window is created in the glass, not painted onto the glass, the windows often seem to glow, even in dim light. Much of the glass in a Tiffany window has an iridescent sheen, which heightens the luminous effect, especially of the sky. Tiffany coined the term “Favrile glass” for the unique types of glass he invented and/or developed for his windows.
There can be as many as six or seven layers of glass in a Tiffany window. This technique permitted a greater depth of color than did a single layer, as one finds in most other stained glass windows. If you look under of arm of the magnificent angel in the window entitled The Message of the Angel to the Shepherds #2, you can actually see the Star of Bethlehem through the angel’s robe. To achieve the mother-or-pearl effect, Tiffany Studios would employ a surface layer of white milk glass, and place behind it several layers of marbleized red, green, and/or blue glass.
Face, Hands and Feet
The faces, hands and feet of the figures, so graceful and elegant, were painted onto glass panels by an expert who specialized in this form of expression, then fired to produce a virtually indestructible, translucent, enamel-like surface.
How are the windows maintained and restored?
Over the past two years, the Arlington Street Church has broadened its mission by developing a plan to repair, restore, and feature our Church with its one-of-a-kind series of opalescent Tiffany stained glass memorial windows for public viewing. For this purpose, the Church established The Foundation for the Preservation of 20 Arlington Street, Inc. a separate, non-sectarian 501(c)(3). During its first year, it has raised more than $120,000 through the generosity of congregational members, anonymous donors, and a few charitable grant from local family foundations. Our work continues and we need your help with a donation.