Friday 7 December 2018

How to Look at Stained Glass by Jane Brocket. Reviewed by Adèle Geras

Below is a photograph of the book I'm reviewing today.  It's not in the same class as all the other pictures on this post, which were taken by Jane Brocket, the author of How to look at stained glass. However, it has the advantage of showing a glimpse  of the back cover.

Jane Brocket knows a great deal about a great many things. I came to her blog (link in the author biog below) because it was beautiful. She posted photos of flowers, cakes, knitted socks, and the creative nail polish choices of  her teenage daughter. She travelled and noticed things as she went and drew them to her readers' attention. She is someone who's endlessly curious about  many things and who moreover makes a point of becoming enormously well-informed about everything  she intends to write about. 

She's originally from Stockport and the first time I met her was in a café in Didsbury, Manchester. Now she's moved to Cambridge, I have met her all over again. My attention was drawn to this book when I read an wonderfully-illustrated article in the Daily Telegraph.  It was only at the end of the piece that I noticed that the book in question was by Jane Brocket. I was amazed  and delighted but not in the least surprised. 

Stained glass interests me. I love it, of course. Most people do. But I lived for a very long time in a house in Manchester which had 1910 stained glass  panels in every window and even in the glass on  the doors inside. If Jane had lived in my house she'd have found out the name of the firm that installed it and probably also the name of the person who designed it...she's that sort of person. I just stared at it over years and wrote the odd poem about it. 

When I moved to Cambridge, I went to visit Ely Cathedral and there's a brilliant stained-glass museum there. And just recently, I had two stained glass experiences. The first was a visit to the Sainte Chapelle in Paris where the windows are miraculously beautiful and glorious in every way, and the second was an Imagine programme on the BBC which was about the dazzling window David Hockney designed for Westminster Abbey, at the Queen's invitation.

By the brilliant Irish designer Harry Clarke. In St Mary, Sturminster Newton, 1921

You're actually going to need two copies of this book. The first can sit on a convenient table where people can pick it up and look at it carefully, reading some of the witty, entertaining and hugely informative text. The second has to be kept in the car if you're travelling round the country, so that you can look up your county in the index and check to see if there's a convenient church you can pop into, in order to admire the stained glass.

The only windows by Marc Chagall in England are in All Saints, Tudeley, Kent. Amazing set of windows - this is a detail (1985).

This book is very well-organised. There's a list detailing what's in the illustrations, a list of 50 churches to visit, an index of churches arranged in counties, and so on. Best of all, the book is divided into short chapters (you don't want to be reading endless screeds when you're looking round a church on a day out) under headings such as Angels, Grisaille, zzzz (for people sleeping) and so on. Dogs and cats, flowers, fire, insects, lead, textiles, saints, restoration, science, feet, crowns, etc. Brocket has encompassed almost everything a person can imagine being depicted in glass. This method of classification things makes it easy for anyone to look out for what particularly interests them. Also, it encourages a search for specific things when you're standing in front of a huge window whose details may at first seem too much to take in.

Lovely semi-abstract glass in Manchester Cathedral by Anthony Hollaway, 1980.

The friendly and approachable tone can't hide the enormous knowledge of the subject that's on display. Brocket explains a great deal about the processes, history and present-day state of stained-glass. She knows the artists. She knows the glass makers. She knows how all the varied strands of stained glass history come together.
In Christ Church in Southwark, which was flattened by bombs in WW2 and rebuilt in late 1950s. By FW Cole, 1961.

It strikes me that this book is a kind of literary stained-glass window. The separate elements are bound together into a satisfying
whole, and you can look at bits of it, one at a time, as you're looking at the actual glass. Or you can do what I did for the purposes of writing this post...start at the beginning and read all the 
way through to the end. 

Detail of vast scheme of windows by Heaton, Butler & Bayne (1860s and 1870s) in St Mary, Banbury.

I'm now fired up to go and explore the Cambridge churches that are mentioned in the book. And I will henceforth know what I'mlooking for when I go anywhere where stained glass is part of the building.

By Joan Howson and Caroline Townshend (1940). In St Credan, Sancreed. (Cornwall, hence Cornish tin miner.)

Three of my favourite books are The Gentle Art of Domesticity and The Gentle Art of Knitting and Vintage Cakes.  Brocket has written lots of others, too, but this one will take its place on the shelf and give me pleasure for years to come.

I'm going to end with a quotation from the book, taken from the section on Beards, to give you a flavour of Brocket's tone and style. I am certain there are many, many people out there who would love to find it under the tree. Merry Christmas!

"Young, virile, heroic saints such as St George and St Michael are usually clean-shaven, the better to show off their remarkably strong jawlines, but older saints, such as St James the Greater and St Peter, who have come through a long life or martyrdom, are often depicted with unruly, unkempt beards, in keeping with a long pilgrimage or an earlier life as a fisherman."

Jane Brocket is an author, blogger and Master of Wine. In 2005, after an MA in Victorian Art & Literature at Royal Holloway, she created her well-known blog, yarnstorm order to write about knitting. Discovering very quickly that she couldn’t knit fast enough to produce enough material for frequent posts, she widened her subject matter to include all things domestic, plus plenty of buns, bulbs and books. She has subsequently written eighteen books on a variety of creative and cultural themes, the latest of which is How to Look at Stained Glass. Jane is married to Simon; they live in Cambridge and have three grown-up children.


Sally Prue said...

What a completely wonderful book this must be: definitely one for the Christmas List. Thank you, Adele!

Carol Drinkwater said...

Thank you, Adele. Coincidentally, I also wrote about stained glass in my blog last month on 26th November. Chagall's extraordinary artwork in France, in Metz and Reims, for example. I don't begin to pretend to have Jane Brocket's knowledge on the subject. In fact, I am new to this interest. It is fascinating though and one that could almost become an obsession. How wonderful to have lived in a house with so much stained glass. This was a lovely post, thank you.

Unknown said...

Wasn't the programme about the Hockney window fascinating?!
And thank you for the book review - another one to take with me as I go churchcrawling!!
(Slight addendum - there is also a Chagall window in Chichester Cathedral - but I believe all 12 windows in Tudely are by him).

Sue Purkiss said...

This is fascinating. Off to take a look at the blog now.