Julie L. Sloan

Trinity Church, Boston - Condition Study

History    The Windows    Condition Study    Recommendations

A condition analysis of stained glass windows consists of as much historical fact about them as can be discovered as well as a meticulous examination and a report similar to the one that follows. Recommendations for restoration are given in addition to general information about stained glass windows, an explanation of how they are made, an overview of accepted practices in their restoration, and a background of condition analysis. An estimate of the restoration cost - if any is needed - is included in the report.

The following analysis of one of the 33 stained glass windows in Trinity Church, Boston, gives a sense of the necessary thoroughness of such a report.

WINDOW 1, "Christ in Majesty" or "Christ Blessing" as shown in the attached photo gallery.  Designed by John La Farge, probably manufactured by the Decorative Stained Glass Company, New York, 1883

The following is from the 1990 report: "Christ in Majesty" (also called "Christ Blessing" in the church handbook, "Trinity Church: The Story of an Episcopal Parish in the City of Boston," 1978), a three-lancet window (a lancet is the vertical division of a window), is located in the west clerestory. It was installed on March 26, 1883, the first of La Farge's windows for Trinity Church.

Trinity Church, Boston, MassachusettsThis window is composed of unusual glass and other materials. The turquoise blue background, which La Farge referred to as "broken-jewel work," is composed of half-spheres of turquoise, blue, and teal-green, about 2" in diameter, with grass-green fractured glass nuggets between them. Each piece of glass is wrapped in lead came and solder is melted to weld the pieces together and fill in the space between. There appears to be no plating in the background areas, although individual jewels may be plated.

The columns in the two flanking lancets and on each side of the center lancet are made of sliced onyx or alabaster and glass. They are plated on the exterior with glass. An early, if not original, unusual detail in this construction is copper wire which spans the column, soldered to the lead came. These wires occur several times in a panel.

The figure of Christ is composed of several layers of glass (it is impossible to determine the number of layers until the window is removed and dismantled). The figure is heavily painted in both flesh and drapery areas. This paint may be fired and cold.

The architectural details (the bases, column capitals, and heads) in all three lancets are composed of complex leaded glass and jewels in several layers. As in the figure, there is extensive painting.

The window is set into wooden sash. The panels are set individually on T-bars. Each panel has one saddle bar on the exterior only. There are no saddle bars on the interior.

On the exterior, this window has been covered with protective glazing. The glazing covering the center panels of the center lancet appears to be of a different age and possibly a different material, having turned yellow and milky.

The condition of this window varies in each lancet and is directly related to the amount of previous repair done over the course of the century since the window's installation.

This window is unusual in its construction in that the background glass is supported more by solder than by lead. As a result, this window appears to be more structurally stable than other La Farge windows. However, where there is leading, such as in the figure and the architectural details, the lead is beginning to show signs of fatigue.

The left lancet appears to have suffered the most extensive repairs. The most recent of these was when the building settled and cracked up the right side of the lancet, separating at the window sill and the jamb. However, there is also evidence that the lancet was repaired at least once prior to this but after installation.

The more recent repairs involve extensive use of silicone. Black silicone has been used to seal the edge of several panels at the jamb. Clear silicone is smeared over the onyx in the second panel from the bottom. Removal of this silicone is necessary and may be problematic. It is not known why the clear silicone was necessary. Presumably the piece of stone is fragile, although no cracks were visible.

Other cracks in the onyx and glass of the column have been repaired with strap leads. These are, in effect, band-aids of lead covering a crack. They are soldered at each end and may be stuck to the glass with silicone or putty. These may be from an earlier repair campaign. They are used in this lancet much more extensively than in the right lancet.

The most seriously deleterious effect of repair found in this lancet was caused by the releading of the bottom panel and the top three panels. These contain the architectural detail but little of the jewelled background. In releading, these areas have been over-cleaned, probably causing the loss of extensive cold paint.

Most critical, at least one layer of La Farge's original glass has been removed and replaced with clear glass clumsily painted with heavy dark paint to simulate the glass details lost. Comparing these areas to those in the right lancet will hint at the extent of glass lost, although some glass may also have been removed in the right lancet. The result is that the architectural details of this lancet are significantly brighter in tone than those in the other two lancets. The artistic and technical integrity of this lancet has been severely comprised by this action.

One puzzling aspect of this lancet which may be answered during restoration is that the painting of the column capital is very different from that in the right lancet. It is not modern, however.

The right lancet does not appear to have been removed as recently as the left. Although it does have black silicone around the perimeter of some panels, the strap leads appear to be older than those in the left side and there is no releading or clear silicone on the glass.

The most perplexing issue in the right lancet is that it appears that the three panels forming the shaft of the column have been rearranged. From the interior, several factors support this. The most noticeable is the color shift in the backgrounds of these three panels and the two which contain the column base and capital. The top panel containing the capital is predominantly deeper blue than the one below it. The third or center panel of the column is deeper in tone than either of the panels next to it, but not as dark as the capital panel. The bottom panel is of similar tone to the center panel, and the second panel from the column base is of similar tone to the fourth panel. In other words, from the top the panels are dark, light, medium, light, medium. The light tone is the same as the overall tone of the left lancet. The panels with a darker appearance have a different distribution of jewels, a greater number of dark blue halfspheres, almost no light half-spheres, and fewer grass-green fractured nuggets.

In addition to this color shift, the shaft of the column is not aligned properly. The second panel from the bottom does not line up with either of its neighboring panels. The fourth panel does not line up with capital panel.

From the exterior, this rearrangement is even more noticeable. The first, third and fifth panels have been at least re-tinned (floated or coated with solder) if not fully releaded. These are the panels which are darker in tone. Although on the interior, these panels do not appear to be releaded, this is difficult to determine in the dim light of the church and with flashlights.

By cutting up a photocopy of a photograph of the window, the panels can be realigned using the borders as the straight line. Numbering from the column capital to the base, the arrangement which allows for correct alignment is 1, 4, 2, 3, 5.

It is possible that the panels themselves are numbered. This was not an uncommon practice among glaziers when installing windows such as this which may become confused. The exact history and whether the backgrounds of panels 1, 3, and 5 were releaded cannot be determined until removal.

The architectural detail at the top of the right lancet is much darker than that in the left lancet. In addition to having more original glass than the left lancet (but not necessarily all the original glass), there is probably a great deal of dirt between the plates of glass.

Of the three lancets, the center appears to be the most intact and unrepaired. There is one piece of glass, at the figure's knee, which may not be original. In reflected light, it is a light blue, as compared to the dark blue of the rest of the drapery. However, in transmitted light, this color reads the same as the rest of the drapery.

The red, green and blue drapery is very dark and almost indistinguishable. This is probably due to the accumulation of dirt between the layers of glass. This is also true for the architectural ornament at the top of the lancet and the flesh areas. This is a very common problem with plated windows. It can be seen very clearly in the lower border of the bottom panel, to the left and right of the wreath where there are mounds of dirt which cast shadows.

The only paint deterioration which is noticeable at this time is in Christ's left hand, in which he holds a book. The third finger has a very pronounced lighter streak through it, as though the paint had somehow been scraped off. Because the detail in the drapery is not visible, it is not possible to determine whether there is any paint in that area and what its condition is.