Project Development

The Chapel of John the Baptist – St. John’s College

The Chapel has been the focal point for Christian worship since before St John’s came into existence.  It was originally consecrated in 1530 as the chapel of St Bernard’s College, the Cistercian house of study in Oxford, and dedicated to St Bernard of Clairvaux.  The chapel was re-dedicated to St John the Baptist in 1557.   A small Baylie chapel was added in the north-east corner in 1662-9.

In addition to rather more period stained glass, the main body of the Chapel houses two windows by the acclaimed stained glass artist Ervin Bossányi, donated by his son Jo, depicting scenes from the life of St Francis of Assisi. Their placing is far from ideal where photography is concerned. In keeping with all of the windows, they are some 3m above floor-level, with one being very poorly lit during these summer months, as a result of large tree behind it, and the other being partially concealed by both the organ loft and a recently installed loop speaker.

Bossányi was a Hungarian-born Jew, who was interned for five years in France during the First World War.  After the war he gained a significant reputation for himself in Hamburg across the disciplines of ceramics, murals, paintings, sculpture and stained glass.  His most significant commission to that point had been stained glass windows for the Ohlsdorf crematorium, which had been designed by Fritz Schumacher.  However, when the Nazis gained power shortly after this commission was completed, Schumacher was suspended as Chief Architect of Hamburg and Bossányi’s promising career there was ended.  In 1934 he emigration to the England with his wife and son, to escape the Nazi regime.  He then started a new career as a notable stained glass artist.  His vivid designs demostrate influences of Asian and in particular Indian art.  The obituary for Bossanyi published by the Daily Telegraph summed up his work well in saying that he had ‘brought a flood of colour to the world’ (Daily Telegraph, 1 October 1979).

The removal of the support bars proved particularly difficult as a result of the texture and cross-hatching that Bossányi uses in his work.  His use of strong colours is not particularly to my taste and it is becoming increasingly clear that this post-production work requires some understanding and empathy for the artist.  This might go some way towards accounting for why I battled for the best part of 12 hours in editing the artwork.

In keeping with all of the work for this project, the batch of photographs was shot at f/8.0, but in this case, the distance between me and the window necessitated the use of the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens, at 170mm.

St. Johns - St Francis of Assisi (low res)

St. Francis of Assisi (Ervin Bossányi, 1944) The Chapel of John the Baptist – St. John’s College

St John's - writingTo the top right of the artwork is some almost invisible and hard to decipher text, partially obscured by cobwebs.  Part of this text appears to be mirrored (although having flipped the image, it is no more clear).  I have done my best to clarify the text in the image below, depicted as viewed from within the chapel, but it remains far from clear.  I will need a second visit to the college chapel in order to better capture this fine detail and given time, will investigate further.

I may return to St. John’s in the winter months in order to photograph the second Bossányi  window, by which time, leaf-fall should improve its lighting.

One thought on “Project Development

  1. Reblogged this on Dominic Price and commented:
    I have just revisited the college in order to understand better the text scratched into the glass. The image to the left is deliberately over-processed in order to make the lettering as clear as possible – and at last, fully understandable.

    The two lights are replicas of a pair made by Bossányi for a 1944 commission, which are now in the Zouche Chapel of York Minster. Bossányi retained the copies for permanent display in his studio to show prospective clients.

    This right hand light shows Francis with the leper, who, according to the story, was restored to health and reconciled to faith by the saint’s ministrations, and who appeared to Francis in a vision as his soul ascended to the heavens. The glass depicts Francis’ complete engagement with the man’s sufferings, above which the Holy Spirit hovers in the form of a dove.

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