Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Home Beautiful: The Betley Hall Windows, 1550-1620

Stained Glass Quarry from Betley Hall, 1550-1620
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Small diamond-shaped panels of stained glass like these are called “quarries.” These quarries were first recorded as being installed at Betley Hall in Staffordshire—the elegant home of the Tollet family--in the Eighteenth Century. The glass panels, however, were most likely made before the Tollet’s mansion was built—sometime in the early Seventeenth Century or late Sixteenth. It is believed that these quarries were salvaged when the original Tollet mansion was demolished in 1783, and leaded into a window in the new Betley Hall which was later built on the site.

During the Elizabethan age,  glass painters often referred to popular prints for inspiration for their designs. Some of the figures in these quarries, made between 1550 and 1620, are thought have been based on an engraving by the prolific German printmaker Israhel van Meckenem (c. 1440-1445 - 1503).

Each of the twelve panels which were salvaged from the original mansion depicts a figure (with one exception-- one depicts a maypole with the inscription “A Mery (sic.) May.”   The other eleven decorated panels depict the following : A fool, six panels each show a man dancing, a man playing a pipe and a tambour, a man on a hobby horse, a woman with a long veil holding a flower. The woman is probably a representation of the Queen of the May.

The dance which is represented here is almost certainly the Morris Dance which was an element of festivities at court and at popular communal celebrations in Tudor England.  For the dance, the participants would stand around a maypole (a tall decorated pole).  The dancers would enact the certain roles: the fool, bell-wearers, a man on a hobby horse and another playing a 'pipe and tambour' - a type of flute played with a small drum.  

The panel at the top of the page shows the “fool.”  The others, pictured below, show the other participants of the Morris Dance.   These quarries date from a period when stained window glass was becoming increasingly scarce. An alternative was devised wherein white glass was painted with colored enamels. Happily, this technique enabled glass painters to produce far more detailed compositions than ever before.

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