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Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion

October 12, 2012 - January 20, 2013

 

Louis C. Tiffany became America's preeminent designer/artist during the country's Gilded Age and at the turn of the 20th century. A major part of his creative work that until now has gone unexamined -- commissions he received for stained-glass windows, altars, and other ecclesiastical objects that grew out of a tremendous increase of congregations -- is investigated in Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion from October 12, 2012 to January 20, 2013 at the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) in New York City. (right: Conserved in preparation for the exhibition, the massive, 12-feet tall stained glass window The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory, circa 1901, has not been on display for decades. The subject of victory over death emphasizes the joyful mood of post-Civil War America and expresses the belief, held by a small group of liberal Protestant congregations whose ideas gained traction during this period, that the faithful are rewarded with peace in heaven. The textured glass suggests the weight, strength, and fullness of the angels' wings, creating an aura of otherworldliness and light. On loan from the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York. Photo credit: Richard P. Goodbody Inc., courtesy the Museum of Biblical Art.)

During his long career, Tiffany (1848-1933) was an artist, interior decorator, and founder of a creative empire operating under various names over the years. In 1902, Tiffany consolidated and renamed his firm Tiffany Studios. He was an exceptional innovator both in terms of the works his company designed and as a businessman. In 1889, as America was experiencing a boom in congregations (between 1890 and 1906, over 4,000 churches were built in the United States), Tiffany established an ecclesiastical division. What Tiffany had done for home furnishing he began to do for houses of worship.

Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion is the first exhibition that focuses on the work the Tiffany Studios designed and fabricated for America's churches and, on a few occasions, synagogues as well. The loan exhibition includes 83 objects, including mosaics, 10 stained-glass windows, dozens of liturgical objects, and scores of works on paper, design drawings and promotional ephemera.

Many of the works have never been on public display or have not been exhibited in decades. Among them is a spectacular 12-3/5 by 7-2/3 foot stained-glass window, The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory, which was restored for the exhibition.

Divided into three thematic sections, this visually striking exhibition addresses Tiffany's broad and encompassing aesthetic interests. Widely traveled, Tiffany took cues from Western and Eastern decorative traditions and freely referenced Byzantine mosaics, medieval architecture, Renaissance painting, Gothic Revival design, and other styles. Yet his work was distinctive. As illuminated in the exhibition, perhaps his single greatest gift both as an artist and in his work with glass was a sensitivity to the painterly effect of light passing through glass.

One thematic section of the exhibition examines Tiffany's innovative use of glass and draws attention to the designers who worked for Tiffany Studios, including Frederick Wilson (1858-1932), one of the most prolific designers of ecclesiastic stained glass in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It also includes work by Agnes Northrop (1857-1953), who created exceptional landscape designs, and Alice C. Morse (1863-1961), whose work will be represented in two watercolor sketches for symbolic windows never before displayed (on loan from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum).

Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion, which is accompanied by a fully illustrated 213-page catalogue, presents new scholarship and delves into the distinctive techniques, craftsmanship and marketing strategies Tiffany Studios employed for its ecclesiastic commissions. The vast majority of the Tiffany Studios' ecclesiastical output between 1880 and 1916 -- the period covered by the exhibition -- were commissions from Protestant churches, reflecting American religious demographics. But the Tiffany Studios received commissions from Jewish congregations as well. Among the numerous public programs MOBIA will hold during the exhibition will be two tours of New York City's Temple Emanu-El for a viewing of Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company's May Memorial Window (1899). (left: Many people consider Tiffany's mastery of light and glass among his greatest achievements. The exhibition contains 10 stained-glass windows, including, at center, Lydia Entertaining Christ and the Apostles, Griffin Memorial Window, from before 1910, the design of which is attributed to Edward P. Sperry and was lent to the exhibition by The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, Long Island City, New York. Photo credit: Photo by Gina Fuentes Walker, courtesy the Museum of Biblical Art.)

A highlight of the exhibition is the massive, 12-foot tall The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory, which was conserved for the exhibition and has not been on display for decades. The subject of victory over death emphasizes the joyful mood of post-Civil War America and expresses the belief, held by a small group of liberal congregations whose ideas gained traction during this period, that the faithful are rewarded with peace in heaven. The textured glass suggests the weight, strength, and fullness of the angels' wings, creating an aura of otherworldliness and light.

Tiffany created the Fathers of the Church mosaic as a showpiece for the landmark 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, IL, where he constructed an elaborate chapel for liturgical works: mosaics, windows, candelabra, and crosses. Recognized as an extraordinary artistic feat, the display received 54 awards -- more than any other exhibitor -- and won Tiffany Studios international fame for its religious work. On view to the public for the first time in decades, Fathers of the Church illustrates the studio's ability to suggest the texture of cloth and fabric in glass embedded in plaster.

Tiffany's ecclesiastical lighting included electroliers, or sanctuary-scaled chandeliers. Novel in both design and technology (electrolier is formed by combining the words "electric" and "chandelier"), Tiffany exploited the newness of electric lighting combining it with Byzantine and Moorish influences to create an innovative decorative church form. A circa 1897 example incorporates ornately cast brass and dangling prisms that reflect his travels through Europe and North Africa.

Tiffany encouraged his designers to look to medieval precedents for the design of liturgical objects. For this suite, designers took inspiration from medieval Sienese chalices, models they would have known from the vast photo archives Tiffany amassed and encouraged his designers to consult.

The accompanying scholarly exhibition catalogue is co-published by D Giles Limited of London, with contributions from co-curators Patricia C. Pongracz, Ph.D., Acting Director and Director of Curatorial Affairs, MOBIA; Lindsy Parrott, Director/Curator, The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass; and independent scholars of American Decorative Art, Diane Wright and Elizabeth De Rosa, Ph.D. The catalogue also includes contributions from leading experts in the field, including: Jennifer Perry Thalheimer, Curator and Collections Manager at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, Florida; Elka Deitsch, Senior Curator, Herbert & Eileen Bernard Museum of Judaica at Congregation Emanu-El; Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang Curator of American Decorative Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Peter W. Williams, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Religion and American Studies, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio and Bexley Hall Seminary, Columbus, Ohio.

 

(above: Among the many ecclesiastical objects the Tiffany Studios designed were baptismal fonts, and the one at center, on loan from Christ Church, Pomfret, Connecticut, dates from 1908 and is made of marble and glass mosaic. In the background from left, is I Am the Resurrection and the Life, 1902, from the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, Chicago, Illinois; Antependium Window, ca. 1892-93, on loan from Lillian Nassau LLC, New York; Fathers of the Church, ca. 1892, a glass and plaster mosaic that was exhibited at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, on loan from The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, Long Island City, New York; and Head of St. Andrew, ca. 1897, a glass mosaic detail for a Last Supper composition, on loan from Lillian Nassau LLC, New York. Photo credit: Photo by Gina Fuentes Walker, courtesy the Museum of Biblical Art.)

 

(above: Tiffany Studios' workshop was sophisticated in its marketing. It had an extensive library of brochures for clients to review, shown in the case, and, on the wall, samples of mosaics. Photo credit: Photo by Gina Fuentes Walker, courtesy the Museum of Biblical Art.)

 

About the the Museum of Biblical Art

Located near Lincoln Center at 1865 Broadway at 61st Street, New York, NY 10023, the Museum of Biblical Art celebrates and interprets art related to the Bible and its cultural legacy in Jewish and Christian traditions through exhibitions, education and scholarship. For hours and fees please vsit the Museum's website.

 

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