Lower Subject: Nativity
Dedication: In memory of Sue Young Lallande and John James Lallande, Louise Lallande Hoyt and Lindley Murray Ferris
Maker/Date: Wilbur Herbert Burnham, Boston, Massachusetts, 1943
Background – This was the last window added to St. George’s and was donation outside the Parish.
Wilbur Herbert Burnham, born in Boston in 1887, was an artist and master craftsman in stained glass. Burnham was commissioned to design windows for churches and cathedrals in the United States and in Europe. Among his most notable works are windows in the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, Washington DC, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Riverside Church in New York City, Princeton University Chapel, and the American Church in Paris. Burnham founded his studio in 1922 at 1126 Boylston Street, Boston; and later, Wakefield, MA under the direction of Wilbur Herbert Burnham, Jr, his son. Burnham died in 1974. The studio was later sold in 1982 though the records were given to the Smithsonian.
Burnham was a member of the Neo-Gothic school. The most prominent spokesman for the Gothic Revival was Charles Connick. He lectured widely and wrote, the most respected and eloquent publication on the art form in the twentieth century. Connick expressed the opinion that stained glass’s first job was to serve the architectural effect; this opinion was in sharp contrast to the painterly effect that had dominated during the Tiffany era
In a 1935 article in the journal Stained Glass, Burnham expressed his views about the importance of the medieval tradition in the harmony of the primary colors, red, blue, and yellow, with the complementary orange, green, and violet typical of his windows. His studies of medieval windows demonstrated that reds and blues should predominate and be in good balance – he believed “blues” had been overstressed. Burnham also noted that windows should maintain high luminosity under all light conditions with a depth of color and amount of pigment useful in controlling glare invariably intense light. Burnham agreed with the concept of unity in multiple windows, which are most easily created when there has been an early, consistent policy by church leaders in collaboration with the designer.
They imitated the color palette of Chartres, principally red and blue, with touches of secondary colors. They imitated the forms, medallion windows for the aisles and large figures for the clerestories. They imitated medieval figure drawing, once called “stained-glass attitudes.” Since the ideal in the church was a “dim religious light” they imitated the patina of the ages with thin washes of glass paint and picked out highlights.
All the color was in the glass and moved away from Tiffany’s use of painting. Colored glass, known as “metal” was made by adding various metallic oxides to the crucibles in which the glass was melted. Cobalt gave blue, copper green, iron red, gold cranberry, silver yellows and gold, copper makes greens and brick red.
Burnham’s windows are divided into different iconographical “fields.” The window works from top to bottom with the standing characters to the top and those sitting around Jesus to the bottom .
The center of the window contains the main story and is the largest and most visible part of the window which is the baby Jesus. Along with Jesus the star divides the scene with a touch of the rose for new life just above Jesus. Mary Joseph and King’s heads bend toward Jesus creating another emphasis for the child. The yellow color extends from the star downward to the hay surrounding Jesus, which illuminates him.
Mary and Joseph on the right are clearly separated from the visitors on the left. The former have halos. All the figures turn inward toward the main story line, the birth of Christ.
Mary’s head is not centered within the window, but bends to one side, thus making the three figures stand out from the otherwise symmetrical composition.
The figures are European and could have been taken from Renaissance or earlier European painting. It is very iconoic , inclusive and balanced – the two shepherds, one King and the angel strumming a lute on the left against the other characters. The colors are both vivid and varied.
Two lambs in the foreground, with their wool depicted in a stylized pattern, add to the richness of the overall design. Placing the lambs close to the Infant Jesus symbolizes Christ as the Lamb of God.
The brilliant reds, yellows, greens, and blues of this window (as with all of Burnham’s windows) stand out with tremendous clarity and brightness, with the primary colors dominent and with the secondary colors used sparingly. The blue sky provides a backup against the red wings of the angel, the cow, and the different color of the halos.
Burnham often used color opposites to add brilliance to the scene and to pull the viewer’s eyes toward the image of Mary. The intense yellow/gold halo surrounded by the light blue head covering is also very eyecatching. Burnham often uses complementary colors (opposites on the color wheel) often red vs. green, or blue and orange.
The clothes are multi-colored – red, blues and different shades of green. They are symbolic. Red, the color of divine love and devotion from, the angel, is balanced by a deep blue (color of Mary symbolizing spiritual truth and divine wisdom). The design is completed by sparkling accents of white for faith and purity, gold for spiritual victory, and green for youth and immortality.
This is a bright window, especially in the full sunlight that reinforces the event. The use of small pieces of multicolored glass creates the effect. This contrasts with the Church’s Tiffany window where the figures could be undistinguished from a painting. The characters are definitely those of windows without the preciseness of the Tiffany approach with the use of staining different pieces of glass.
Burnham’s must have thought of the interplay of the sun coming through the window. The morning sun shining through the window comes right through the star projecting star rays on the upper gallery.
The medieval details at the top and bottom surround the nativity and create the appearance of a medieval city. The sides are curved creating a stage for the presentation of the Nativity window itself. The borders on the left and right side provide a feeling of lightness. This effect is in part created by the borders having a predominance of white glass and architectural figures pointed up.
The details in the bottom portion are very medieval. On the left and right side are the two St. George Crosses. It is a red cross on a white background The cross has its origins in the 12th century. It was used by a variety of Italian city states – Bologna, Padua and Genoa. The flag became associated with crusaders.
The red cross was introduced to England by the late 13th century, but not as a flag, and not at the time associated with Saint George. It was worn by English soldiers as an identification from the early years of the reign of Edward I (1270’s). After the reformation it came associated with England as a whole.
The window decorations on the top and bottom appear to be associated with a cathedral and lead to a pointed Gothic arch with a lancet. The top section above the star may be a triforium, a gallery or arcade above the arches of the nave, choir, and transepts of a church. Inside are more lancets. There are pinnacles on either side of the star, a sharply point ornament capping the piers or flying buttresses. There is also a tympanum, a semi-circular or triangular decorative wall surface over an entrance, door or window, which is bounded by a lintel and arch. It often contains sculpture or other imagery or ornaments.