Conservation of Chapel East Window completed

Tuesday 23 April 2019
Balliol College Chapel, east window, 16 April 2019 (photo: Ian Taylor)

Balliol College Chapel, east window, 16 April 2019 (photo: Ian Taylor)

John Jones (Emeritus Fellow) writes:

The Chapel East Window glass, which has been in the hands of our friends at York Glaziers Trust since last autumn, has just been replaced, cleaned, conserved and protected with state-of-the-art isothermal protective glazing. The protective arrangements will only be noticed by well-informed viewers who go out of their way to look for them. There is no interruption of appreciation, which is enormously enhanced.

Balliol College Chapel, east window, detail after conservation (photo: York Glaziers Trust)

This glass, which is dated 15291530 with one panel of 1857, is by the leading glazier-artists James Nicholson (1529) and Michael O’Conner (1857). It has been much abused and garbled by our now distant predecessors, because of changes of taste and conservation concern.

But the surviving panels contain examples of the very best English glass art of the early 16th century. Our East Window is a national treasure which the College has a moral obligation (which it now willingly accepts) to preserve. It was dull and mostly not noticed in recent decades, but now looking at it is an uplifting colourful experience when diffused sunlight is behind it. And according to the Lodge head count, over 60,000 visitors enjoy it each year.

York Glaziers have exposed some exquisite detail which nobody has seen in our lifetimes. Many examples could be cited — the angel holding a severed forearm top right in the panel showing the sainted Bishop near the bottom right-hand corner of the window, for example (photo above right). If anyone can figure out what the severed forearm means we shall be glad to hear from them.

Work is in progress on writing up the detailed history, with analysis, of all the Chapel glass, which will appear online with illustrations in due course.

Balliol College Chapel, east window, detail before conservation (photo: York Glaziers Trust)

East Window, panel 2a. 1529. St Lawrence, with the gridiron of his martyrdom behind him and the arms of Lawrence Stubbs, a benefactor, at his feet. Photographs, before (left) and after conservation, by York Glaziers Trust, 2018 and 2019

Photographs by Ian Taylor, 16 April 2019, and York Glaziers Trust.