The Representation of Architectural Space in the St. William and Great East Window of York Minster

The Representation of Architectural Space in the St. William and Great East Window of York Minster

By Emma Jane Wells

Journal of Stained Glass (2010)

Introduction: The 2002 Brussels RCMSF dossier entitled Représentations architecturales dans les vitraux is the most substantial work on the diversity of the formal contribution of architecture to glass painting so far. Several experts were solicited to analyse numerous case studies stretching across Europe containing architectural representations in the glass. The intention of these studies was to illustrate the interaction between the graphics of real architecture and the creation of architectural paintings and drawings, but do not explore far beyond the use of a taxonomic methodology.

Although frequently mentioned in general works on stained glass, relatively little has been written on the function and meaning of architectural devices in glass as a single subject, and only a few scholars have dealt with individual aspects of this characteristic. The practice of using contemporary architectural compositions can be seen throughout the glass of the medieval period in almost every celebrated iconographic scheme which makes this oversight all the more remarkable. Perhaps then, in quoting Meyer Schapiro, James Bugslag categorically sums up why there has been such an oversight of this artistic phenomenon within stained glass studies to date; „…we tend to take for granted the regular margin and frame as essential features of the image‟.

The medieval glazing scheme of the east end of York Minster lies at the centre of this undoubtedly important issue. While it is the design, authorship and patron of this glazing that often receives most attention, it is the aim of this article to demonstrate the significance of architectural representations in the overall iconographic composition of panel scenes and to the development of medieval glass design in general.

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