The mission of the Corpus Vitrearum, an international research project under the aegis of the Union Académique Internationale (or International Union of Academies), is the thorough scholarly investigation and documentation of stained-glass windows made before 1700.
In his landmark 1906 chapter dedicated to medieval stained glass in André Michel’s multi-volume history of art, the French scholar Emile Mâle decried the lack of sufficient photographs of windows. Mâle’s quest for the systematization of resources was paralleled in 1908 by the establishment of the Deutsche Verein für Kunstwissenschaft, a German association for art historical research. By the 1930s, a group within the Verein under the direction of Paul Frankl, who in 1910 had written his dissertation on fifteenth-century glass painting in southern Germany but is perhaps best known for his studies of Gothic architecture, had begun to oversee the systematic photographic documentation of German window cycles.
However, the study of stained glass was not truly established as an art historical discipline until after the Second World War. The glass that had been demounted for safety during the war offered an unprecedented opportunity for close analysis. At the same time, the devastating losses suffered by glazing programs throughout northwestern Europe during the war again drew attention to the need for photographic documentation and for standardized records and methods of analysis. Initiatives begun in 1947 led to the founding in 1952 of the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi, an international body devoted to studying the medium, with the stated goal of publishing all western medieval stained glass according to clearly prescribed standards. One of the guiding lights behind this ambitious international effort, the Swiss scholar Hans Hahnloser, referred to the tremendous sense of obligation that the community of scholars felt over the losses of the war and the unifying purpose that created among them.
The American Committee of the Corpus Vitrearum began with Yale University professor Sumner Crosby and his student, Jane Hayward. From the completion of her dissertation on “The Angevine Style of Glass Painting” in 1958, Hayward directed the work of the American Committee. Through Hayward’s efforts, along with those of her colleagues, Meredith P. Lillich (Professor Emeritus, Syracuse University) and Madeline H. Caviness (Professor Emeritus, Tufts University), the American Committee has steadily grown, and now includes specialists in glass conservation as well as art history. The American Committee, working with the shortened title of Corpus Vitrearum, has maintained Hayward’s original vision to publish stained glass made before 1700 in this country, beginning with an inaugural publication of Occasional Papers, published in conjunction with the XIth International Colloquium of the Corpus Vitrearum, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1985.
Within the Corpus Vitrearum organization, American scholars face particular challenges. Since none of the medieval glass is indigenous to our shores, resulting in complex panels that may have been restored and altered for commercial sale, our investigations must be conducted without the helpful cohesion of working on a given site or monument. To date, the American Corpus has published four Checklists of all the identified glass created before 1700 in American collections, appearing in the National Gallery of Art’s publication Studies in the History of Art: volume 15 on New England and New York (1985); volume 23 on the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern Seaboard States (1987); volume 28 on the Midwestern and Western States (1989); and volume 39 on Silver-Stained Roundels and Unipartite Panels (1991). These may now be downloaded and searched from this website.
Building on the research undertaken for the Checklists, the American Committee has published four detailed catalogues on stained-glass panels created before 1700 now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in Upstate New York, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and in the Midwestern collections of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. In addition, a more recent Occasional Papers was published in 2010, in conjunction with the Forum for the Conservation of Stained Glass held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Kress Foundation has been a leading supporter of scholarship of the American Committee of the Corpus Vitrearum. We are especially grateful to the Kress Foundation for their recognition of the importance of establishing an online presence and for their continued support with their subvention of this website. Catalogues of the American collections of stained glass in New England, the Getty Museum in California, Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, and the collections of German and Netherlandish glass in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York are projected in the near future.
With thanks to Virginia Chieffo Raguin for the website prototype she developed, as well as for her ongoing generosity and enthusiasm.
American Corpus Vitrearum, Selected Papers from the XIth International Colloquirum of the Corpus Vitrearum, New York, 1-6 June 1982,ed. Madeline H. Caviness and Timothy Husband, Occasional Papers I (New York: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985).
______, The Art of Collaboration: Stained-Glass Conservation in the Twenty-First Century, ed. Mary B. Shepard, Lisa Pilosi and Sebastian Strobl (Turnhout: Harvey Miller Publishers, 2010).
Caviness, Madeline H., “Beyond the Corpus Vitrearum: Stained Glass at the Crossroads,” in Soixante-douzième session annuelle du Comité, Bruxelles, du 21 au 27 juin 1998: Compte Rendu, Brussels: Union Académique Internationale, pp. 15-39.
______, Stained Glass Windows, Typologie des Sources du Moyen Age Occidental, Fasc. 76 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996).
Cothren, Michael W., “Some Personal Reflection on American Modern and Postmodern Historiographies of Gothic Stained Glass,” in From Minor to Major: The Minor Art in Medieval Art History, ed. Colum Hourihane, The Index of Christian Art, Occasional Papers, IV (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2012), pp. 255-70.
Frankl, Paul, Gothic Architecture, revised by Paul Crossley (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000).
______, The Gothic: Literary Sources and Interpretations through Eight Centuries (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960).
Frodl-Kraft, Eva, “Das Corpus Vitrearum, 1952-1987: Ein Rückblick,” Kunstchronik 41 (1988), pp. 1-12.
Grodecki, Louis, “Dix ans d’activité du Corpus Vitrearum,” Revue de l’Art 51 (1981), pp. 23-30.
Hahnloser, Hans, “Zur Einfürung,” in the first publication of the Corpus Vitrearum, Ellen J. Beer, Die Glasmälereien der Schweiz vom 12. bis zum Beginn des 14. Jahrhunderts, CV Schweiz 1 (Basel, 1956).
Hayward, Jane, and Madeline H. Caviness, “Introduction,” in Madeline Caviness ed., Stained Glass before 1700 in American Collections: New England and New York, CV USA, Checklist 1, Studies in the History of Art, vol. 15 (Washington, D.C. 1985), pp. 10-19.
Kurmann-Schwarz, Brigitte and Claudine Lautier, “Recherches récentes sur le vitrail médiéval 1998-2009,” Kunstkronik 63 (2010), pp. 261-84 and 313-38.
Mâle, Emile, “La Peinture sur verre en France,” in André Michel, ed., Histoire de l’Art depuis les premiers temps chrétiens jusqu’à nos jours, 8 vols. (Paris, 1906), vol. 2, pp. 372-401.
Marks, Richard, “Medieval stained glass: recent and future trends in scholarship,” The Journal of Stained Glass 24 (2000), pp. 62-79.
Pastan, Elizabeth Carson, “Glazing Medieval Buildings,” in A Companion to Medieval Art: Romanesque and Gothic in Northern Europe, ed. Conrad Rudolph (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2006), pp. 443-65.
______ and Mary B. Shepard, guest editors, “Glazing and Stained Glass: Collaborations, Analogies, and Investigations,” Journal of Glass Studies 56 (October, 2014): 229-350.