Spotlight: The Shepherds

“Plaque with the Annunciation to the Shepherds”, ca. 1165
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 17.190.417

One of the most enduring and endearing Christmas images is that of a heavenly host of angels calling to fearful shepherds in the fields of Judea that on this day, in the city of David, a Savior was born.  These humble shepherds are the first to hear the proclamation that has remained integral to worship in the Christian faith, “’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:14).  The shepherds who find the infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger are the first to worship Jesus as the Messiah in the chronological narrative of Gospels.

How to Know Them and Where to Find Them: In contrast to the rich and gift-bearing magi who come to praise the newborn in the Gospel of Matthew, the shepherds are usually depicted in plain clothes.  In many depictions throughout the centuries, they have been portrayed as peasants, often times in clothing contemporary to the artist.  Sometimes they are shown holding bagpipes, the traditional instrument associated with sheep herders, as they were in the a painting exhibited at MOBIA earlier this year, loaned from the Cloisters.

"Bartolo

Bartolo di Fredi
“The Adoration of the Shepherds”, c. 1374
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters Collection
25.120.288

The shepherds can be found in general Nativity scenes, but there exists a subset of those scenes, called the Adoration of the Shepherds, that specifically focuses on their encounter with the Holy Family.

The shepherds are also found in portrayals of the annunciation to them by the angels.

"Andrea

Andrea Mantegna
“The Adoration of the Shepherds”, shortly after 1450
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
32.130.2

Shepherd Sightings: The Metropolitan Museum of Art has several depictions of the shepherds of the Nativity story, including one by Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna.  Another image, by a follower of Jan Joest of Kalkar, is based off of the visions of St. Bridget of Sweden, a fourteenth-century mystic who envisioned the Christ child as emanating a great light.

In Today’s World: The attendants of the Nativity have long stirred the imaginations of artists.  Lew Wallace, a Civil War general and author, devotes a lengthy passage to the experience of the shepherds in his novel Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ.  Though best known as a film, the original 1880 novel introduces the story by lavishing attention on the various figures who adored the infant Jesus.

The shepherds are treated to screen time in 2006’s The Nativity Story.  Before the birth of her son, Mary encounters an elderly shepherd on way to Bethlehem who tells her that he was never blessed enough in life to receive a gift.  Later, when the shepherds come to adore the child, Mary holds her baby out the teary-eyed shepherd, and when he touches the infant, she tells him, “Each of us is given a gift.”

"Follower

Follower of Jan Joest of Kalkar
“The Adoration of the Christ Child”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1982.60.22

Whether it be in tender, in-depth portrayals like this, through the singing of a Christmas carol like “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, or in a family’s chreche, lovingly displayed every holiday season, the inclusion of the shepherds brings a sense of humility, wonder, and awe to the Nativity scene.

- T.C. for MOBIA

Merry Christmas from MOBIA!

MOBIA strives to uncover and celebrate the myriad ways the Bible has impacted the history of art.  On this Christmas Eve, we look to a classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas, to show that even Charles M. Schulz and Peanuts were influenced by the Bible.  Here’s Linus, reciting from the Gospel of Luke, to answer Charlie Brown’s question of the meaning of Christmas.

Spotlights on Broadway: The Head of St. Andrew

The commitment of Tiffany Studio’s Ecclesiastical Department to “elevate the beauty of religion” is evident in their works as varied as leaded-glass windows, mosaics, baptismal fonts, and church furnishings that feature innovative designs and fine materials. Louis C. Tiffany employed skilled chemists, designers, and craftsmen within his workshop and their meticulous attention to detail can be seen in the Head of St. Andrew, detail for a Last Supper composition. This mosaic is the subject of the upcoming “Spotlight Tour” here at MOBIA on Thursday, December 27th at 6:30 pm where a docent will lead a free 20-minute talk that will also discuss the overall theme of the exhibition Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion.

"Tiffany

Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, New York
“Head of St. Andrew”, detail for a “Last Supper” composition, ca. 1897
Glass mosaic, 49 x 30 in.
Collection of Allen Michaan, courtesy of Lillian Nassau LLC, New York

Intended as a sample mosaic that would have been shown to prospective patrons, the Head of St. Andrew suggests the breadth and artistry that one could expect from Tiffany Studios. St. Andrew the Apostle is rendered in favrile and opalescent glass tesserae in a full spectrum of colors that relate a distinct three-dimensionality to the composition. Tiffany Studios’ acute ability to depict textiles in mosaics can be seen in the suggestion of embroidery on the tablecloth and the natural fall of the crimson drape. St. Andrew’s name is inscribed in Latin on his halo, and the gold tesserae that are used have a rippled effect that suggests the appearance of actual engraving. This brilliant detail loses some dimension in visual reproductions, demanding that one see and experience it in person to fully appreciate it.

"Tiffany

Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, New York
Frederick Wilson, designer
“The Last Supper”, installed 1897
Favrile, opalescent glass mosaic, 9 x 18 ft.
The First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, Maryland, Gift of the Eaton family

A complete 9×18 foot mosaic of the Last Supper by Tiffany Studios that includes the vignette of St. Andrew was commissioned by the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, Maryland, where it can be seen today. Art historical precedents of the Last Supper such as Leonardo da Vinci’s painting from Santa Maria della Grazie, Milan (1495-98), seem to have influenced this rendition. By referencing these works within their own creations, Tiffany Studios sought to place themselves within the grand tradition of art.

- A.P.R. for MOBIA

Spotlights on Broadway: The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory

Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion, currently on view at MOBIA, features the monumental stained-glass window The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory, Brainard Memorial Window.  Created for a Methodist church in Waterville, New York, around 1901, it was designed by Frederick Wilson, the lead designer in Tiffany’s Ecclesiastical Department.  The window is a stunning example of artistic innovation, theological understanding, and beauty.

The Righteous window is an allegory derived from 1 Peter 5:4: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the glorious crown which will never lose its brightness.”  A female allegorical figure, whose back is turned to the viewer, ascends steps with the help of two angels, one clothed in purple, the other in blue.  Three other angels hover at the top of the steps; the center angel holds a crown above a resplendent jeweled cross, which dominates the window.  For Christians, the cross embodies the redemptive sacrifice willingly made by Jesus so that all believers might have eternal life in heaven.  The message of triumph over death and the serenity and hope this Christian belief instills in believers are clearly communicated through glass, figural composition, and the window’s placement inside a church.  It was created during a time, post-Civil War, when religious images that highlighted suffering were falling out of favor and images of redemption, hope, and joy were more desired in worship spaces.

"Tiffany

Tiffany Studios, New York
Frederick Wilson, designer
“The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory, Brainard Memorial Window for Methodist Church, Waterville, New York” (detail), ca. 1901
Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York
Photo by Richard Goodbody, Inc.

This window is an exemplar of the work Tiffany Studios created because it features several types of glass.  Glass is produced by crushing sand and various minerals together and melting them at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  This creates molten liquid, which is spread out on a table to make a sheet of glass.  What happens to the molten liquid once on the table affects its texture, opacity, color, and overall natural quality.  The central figure’s robes, for example, are created using drapery glass.  Drapery glass is a type of opalescent glass that is made by holding one end of a roller still and pushing the other end in short, regular intervals across the molten surface of the glass to create fan-shaped folds that emanate from a single point.  Other types of glass used in the creation and design of the window include feathered glass (used for the wings of the angels) and ripple glass (used to emphasize the majesty of the halo encircling the cross).

"Tiffany

Tiffany Studios, New York
Frederick Wilson, designer
“The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory, Brainard Memorial Window for Methodist Church, Waterville, New York” (detail), ca. 1901
Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York
Photo by Richard Goodbody, Inc.

Trained as an artist, Louis C. Tiffany used his knowledge of color and light to emphasize certain aspects of the window.  In this window, the color scheme was deliberately chosen and rendered to highlight the visual and theological center of the composition: the cross.  By using darker colors like purple around the outside and lightening them to pastel hues as they move inward, the pale yellow cross becomes more illuminated through contrast without the work of any additional lighting.  The effect is also helped by the studded glass jewels that embellish the cross.

The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory was removed from the Methodist church and acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Randall, who in 1996 donated it to the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. At that point, it was in disrepair and in need of conservation treatment.

In July 2012, the window was secured in 11 custom-built crates at the Corning Museum of Glass and taken to the Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass in Long Island City. Over the summer, it was restored by Drew Anderson, a conservator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Fully restored, it can be seen at MOBIA until January 20.

- T.C. for MOBIA

"Tiffany

Tiffany Studios, New York
Frederick Wilson, designer
“The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory, Brainard Memorial Window for Methodist Church, Waterville, New York”, ca. 1901
Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York
Photo by Richard Goodbody, Inc.

Spotlight: The Hanukiah

In honor of Hanukkah, which begins Saturday, December 8th at sundown, we highlight here some of the city’s hanukiyot, or Hanukkah lamps.

Hanukkah, known as the Festival of Lights, commemorates the rededication of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem after it was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the god Zeus in 168 B.C.E.  A group of Jewish rebels called the Maccabees led resistance against the foreign invaders, and once the Syrian-Greeks were defeated, the Jews set about purifying the Temple.  They found that there was only enough ritual oil to keep the candelabrum within lit for one day, but it miraculously stayed lit for eight full days, which is why the celebration lasts eight nights.

The Hanukkah lamp, called a hanukiah, is one of the most beloved and recognizable ceremonial objects in Judaism.  Different from, though often confused with, the menorah, which is a seven-branched candelabrum used in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, the hanukiah is used only during the celebration of Hanukkah.  It holds nine candles; the center one, called the shamash or “attendant candle”, is not level with the rest as it is used to light the other eight candles, with an additional candle being added for each night of the eight day festival.  Traditionally, the candles are placed in the hanukiah from right to left, the same way Hebrew is read, but they are lit from left to right.

New York City boasts a proud variety of Hanukkah lamps.  The Jewish Museum’s collection holds hanukiyot that span time and locales, reflecting different motifs and styles employed by the communities who made and used them.

"Hanukkah

Hanukkah Lamp
Germany, 19th century
•Tin plate: hand-worked and die-stamped
•17 1/8 x 11 1/2 x 4 1/2 in. (43.6 x 29.2 x 11.4 cm)
•The Jewish Museum, New York
•Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman, F 2633

"Hanukkah

Hanukkah Lamp
Eastern Europe, early 19th century (?)
•Copper alloy: cast
•27 9/16 x 14 7/8 x 7 7/16 in. (70 x 37.8 x 18.9 cm)
•The Jewish Museum, New York
•Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman (?), F 3338

"Hanukkah

Hanukkah Lamp
Poland or Russia, early 19th century
•Silver: repoussé, engraved, traced, punched, pierced, appliqué, and cast; wood; enamel
•16 15/16 x 14 3/16 x 3 7/16 in. (43.1 x 36.1 x 8.8 cm)
•The Jewish Museum, New York
•Gift of Samuel and Lucille Lemberg, JM 3-53

One of the more unique hanukiyot the museum has is in the form of the Statue of Liberty.  The artist, Mae Rockland Tupa, says that she created the piece because believes that “just as Jews have become an integral part of the American scene, so can a classical American symbol be used to express a Jewish theme” (Rockland, The Hanukkah Book, p. 46).

"Miss

Miss Liberty
Mae Rockland Tupa (American, b. 1937)
Princeton, New Jersey, United States, 1974
•Wood covered in fabric; plastic: molded
•11 x 24 x 7 in. (27.9 x 60.9 x 17.8 cm)
•The Jewish Museum, New York
•Gift of the artist, 1984-127a-b

The Herbert & Eileen Bernard Museum of Judaica, located at Temple Emanu-El, also contains intricately designed hanukiyot in its collection.

"LEHMAN/

LEHMAN/ FIGDOR HANUKKAH LAMP
Germany or Italy, 14th century
Bronze, cast

Fun fact: New York City has the largest menorah in the world!  At 32 feet high and 4,000 lbs., this hanukiah is lit near Central Park every year on the eight days of Hanukkah (which, this year, are December 8th -16th).  So large it has to be lit by a cherry picker, it was designed by Israeli artist Yaacov Agam and is protected from the wintry winds by specially engineered glass chimneys.

- T.C. for MOBIA

Spotlights on Broadway: The Cryder Memorial Window

The Cryder Memorial Window, now on view in MOBIA’s exhibition Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion, is a striking and complex example of a memorial window made by Tiffany Studios. The story behind the window is worth exploring …

"Tiffany

Tiffany Studios, New York
“Sir Galahad”, Cryder Memorial Window, before 1910
Leaded glass, 45 x 27 1/4 inches
St. Andrew’s Dune Church, Southampton, New York
Courtesy of St. Andrew’s Dune Church; Photo by Richard Goodbody, Inc.

Ogden Cryder was the youngest child and only son of Edith Ogden Cryder and Duncan Cryder. The well-to-do family lived in Southampton, Long Island, and Ogden was a student at Groton, a private all-boys boarding school in Massachusetts. In December 1901, he was in the fifth form (his junior year) and home for the winter holiday. Two days after Christmas, he fell beneath a streetcar in lower Manhattan, near Washington Square. He was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where he died the next day. More than one hundred of his schoolmates – most of Groton’s student body – attended his funeral.

Obituary from the NY Herald, Tuesday, January 7, 1902

Obituary from the NY Herald, Tuesday, January 7, 1902

Ogden’s parents commissioned a window from Tiffany Studios as a memorial to their son. It was installed in 1902 in St. Andrew’s Dune Church, where the family worshipped each Sunday. The subject of the window – a medieval knight – may well strike us an unusual. The window is nearly an exact copy of a famous painting entitled Sir Galahad by the English artist George Frederic Watts.

"George

George Frederic Watts
“Sir Galahad”, 1860-62
Oil on canvas, 75 1/2 x 42 1/8 inches
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.209

During the late 1800s, the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table became enormously popular.  Sir Galahad, the son of Sir Lancelot, is a young knight exceptional both for his beauty and for his extreme chastity. He dedicates himself to the quest for the Holy Grail and is the only one of Arthur’s knights to achieve the Grail. In Watts’ painting, Galahad pauses in meditation, almost as if he were listening to a sermon or contemplating a vision, and his head is haloed by a white cloud; he seems the embodiment of purity and chivalry.

Watts’ painting was well-known in England and was used repeatedly for memorials to young men killed in the Boer War and in World War I. In April 1918, Alexander Dobbie, only 19 years old, died of his wounds in northern France. His parents commissioned a memorial window from Morris & Company, an English design firm similar in many ways to Tiffany Studios. The window pictured here is one of several versions that Morris & Company produced. *

In comparing the windows made by the two design firms, we can see that Tiffany Studios and Morris & Company used radically different approaches to translating Watts’ Sir Galahad into stained glass. The Morris & Co. version favors deep, uniform colors, carefully delineated, and appears on the whole more painterly; while the Tiffany Studios version is a many-layered composition of surprising depth and warmth, in which the radiant sky and the dappled light of the forest are captured with a mixture of colors and textures. The difference in style is especially pronounced in the treatment of Sir Galahad’s face: his features are formal, even flat, in Morris & Co.’s window, while his cheeks and forehead glow with light in Tiffany’s.

Our understanding and appreciation of Tiffany’s artistry is deepened when we consider that this window, though based on a popular image, served a very personal purpose: it was what Ogden Cryder’s parents would have seen every Sunday when they went to church, and it was one of the ways in which they remembered their youngest child.

- E. L. for MOBIA

*Information drawn from Christine Poulson’s book, The Quest for the Grail: Arthurian Legend in British Art, 1840-1920, Chapter 4