125 Treasures: Tiffany Stained Glass Window



Maymont Mansion Tiffany Stained Glass Window

Stained Glass Window
American
Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company
installed 1892
15 x 9.5 feet
Bequest of James and Sallie Dooley, 1925
Maymont Mansion

The Maymont Mansion’s stained glass window has always been one of the glories of the estate. Rising fifteen feet above the grand staircase, it was positioned to create a dramatic effect in combination with other striking elements of the Living Hall. Surely guests entering the Dooleys’ home would have been dazzled by the brilliant, towering window – just as visitors are today.

While Maymont was under construction, a Richmond newspaper on October 4, 1892 considered the delivery and installation of the window a noteworthy local event, reporting on page one that “Major Dooley’s handsome window executed by Tiffany has been received and placed in position in his palatial stone house.” Five years after completion of the residence, the window was mentioned again in an 1898 newspaper account of one the Dooleys’ lavish parties: “From bottom to top the stairway was a fragrant network of ferns, smilax and pink roses, and a light was so placed as to bring out with vivid clearness the beauty of the large Tiffany stained glass window.” (1)

When the Maymont window was in production, Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of the owner of Tiffany & Co., was one of America’s pre-eminent designers. He owned the largest stained glass studio in the country – then called Tiffany Glass and Decorating Co., later renamed Tiffany Studios. He had begun experimenting around 1880 with opalescent glass to achieve more vibrant colors and greater luminosity, and by 1892, his company was expanding and undergoing a major transition. He was building his own glass furnace and at the same time, creating an elaborate exhibition for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which opened in 1893, the year the Maymont Mansion was completed. (2) The next year, Tiffany Glass & Decorating Co. completed its first window for Mrs. Dooley’s parish church, St. Paul’s in downtown Richmond. (3)

The Maymont window is divided into two major sections, both united by a motif of swirling grapevines. The upper section is a brilliant expression of the Art Nouveau style in luminous hues of blue, aqua, green, purple, rose, and gold. Intricately knotted grapevines interspersed with clusters of grapes encircle large areas of opalescent glass. A stylized tree is set within the upper central panel. One of Tiffany’s distinctive ‘jewels,’ a large rough-cut piece of amber-colored glass, is set prominently in this area of the design. Other characteristics of Tiffany’s work of this period are represented throughout the window, in particular the layering of glass to produce color effects and depth, folded drapery glass, ripple glass, and painted glass to represent faces and hands. Coincidentally, not far away in Hollywood Cemetery, we find another Tiffany window with a very similar representation of grapevines in the 1897 mausoleum of Richmond tobacco tycoon, Lewis Ginter. (4)

The central panel of the lower tier above the first floor landing depicts Christ entering a doorway with his hand raised in blessing and a woman and small child in the foreground. A scroll near the top reads “Peace Be Unto This House,” words from the New Testament, Luke 10:5. The source for the central image was recently located by long-time docent and former Conservation Technician, Evelyn Zak – a painting by William Charles Thomas Dobson, an English artist whose works became known to mass audiences through engravings. (5)

The Maymont window has been conserved in phases, first in 1977 by Dieter Goldkuhle. Later in 2007, Scott Taylor conserved the central panel through funding from the 1772 Foundation, which also funded protective exterior mounted laminated glass with UV and visible light reducing properties.

Like many of Tiffany’s residential commissions, the Maymont window is not signed, and unfortunately, related early documentation has not survived. Such is not the case with the magnificent stained glass window designed by Tiffany Studios for the Dooleys’ summer home, Swannanoa, completed in 1913 atop Afton Mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Waynesboro, Virginia. Displaying many of the characteristics of Tiffany’s finest work, the signed window represents a youthful image of Sallie Dooley dressed in classical garb, standing in the midst of a lushly planted Italian garden.

Commissioning not one, but two, enormous windows by America’s renowned stained glass studio is yet another indication of the Dooleys’ sophistication and awareness of the “artistic” taste and high-style décor of their time. Filled with original furnishings and luxurious interior detailing such as the window, Maymont Mansion stands out as a remarkably authentic representation of the Gilded Age.

Notes:

  1. The Times, Richmond, Tuesday, 4 October 1892, p. 1.
    Richmond Dispatch, Sunday, 13 February 1898.
  2. Marilyn A. Johnson, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Artist for the Ages, Scala Publishers, 2005.
    Rosaline Pepall et al., Tiffany Color and Light, Montreal Museum of Art, 2009.
  3. Calder Loth, Windows of Grace: The Memorial Windows of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, Va., 2004.
  4. Special thanks to Donald Traser for sharing images of the Ginter mausoleum windows.
  5. See Arthur’s Illustrated Home Magazine in 1874. The representation of religious subjects in residential stained glass windows is not unique among Tiffany’s private commissions. Subject matter was, of course, the patron’s choice. (See George Sheldon, Artistic Houses, 1886, Benjamin Blom reprint, p. 47.)

Written by Dale Wheary, Maymont Curator and Director of Historical Collections and Programs, this post is part of a blog series commemorating Maymont Mansion’s 125th anniversary. Each post in the series will detail significant objects, from sculptures and paintings to furniture and fine porcelain, in the Maymont Museum Collection. Read all posts in the series here.

Visit Maymont Mansion to see the Tiffany stained glass window and more from the mansion collection.

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