St. Peter’s College Chapel
A series of unfortunate events resulted in my arrival at St. Peter’s College Chapel following no planning visit. Consequently I was travelling with a much larger than normal selection of lenses and knew that I had been granted just ninety minutes access to the location. Dating back to 1874, the Chapel (originally the parish church of St. Peter-le-Bailey) was pleasingly spacious and in uncluttered Gothic style, affording an open and clear line of sight to the imposing east window.
While I have permission from the College to photograph within the chapel today, I have not received permission to use the images as this has to come from the Bishop of Oxford: for every location a different and new obstacle!
However, just inside the chapel door within the south chancel, was an impressive Bossányi window. Significantly, this was mounted only a meter or so above the floor allowing straightforward photography that would require no perspective control in post-production – this made a sensible starting point both for the photography and post-production. Below shows one of the unedited photographs on the left and the completed image on the right, which necessitated just over ten hours of editing. I am a little concerned about the intensity of the blues in my finished edit and wonder whether I have overdone this – perhaps I should have selected a longer exposure for those areas when piecing together the image? Time will tell and I hope to have the chance to carry out a follow-up visit in a week or two.
With no restriction on my distance from the window, I was able to put to use my preferred lens, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM, set to f/8.0. The weather was not perfect, with light rain and rather heavier cloud cover than is ideal. As a result, the 19 images necessitated slightly slower exposures than normal, ranging from 1/40 s to 2.0 s.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I do now wish that I had split the window in half when photographing it. The narrow nature of this single light is such that the edited image is little more than 4.5MP in resolution, however, had I captured the bottom half and top half separately, the resulting image could have been closer to 25MP in size. Should time allow in the later part of my research, it would seem appropriate to revisit with this in mind.
The editing of the east window images is still to come, but the chapel featured a number of related items that were of interest, being home to a number of Bossányi’s designs. Uniquely, his design process did not involve the production of a vidimus: rather than sketches, he produced miniature transparent designs made to scale. These exquisite designs were freely drawn on Perspex, the density of colour being achieved by gluing coloured glass fragments to the reverse. The chapel has presented these designs within light boxes, with the collection including four designs for Canterbury Cathedral; seven separate lights for Washington Cathedral, USA, and the central panel of the Rose Window for Michaelhouse School Chapel in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. This is a location I have passed thirty or forty times in my life, aware of the magnificent window, but never having the time to stop and visit. The detail shows the Head of Christ and in his hand one black and one white bird: the artist’s unhesitating and unambiguous statement on racial equality. Bossányi made a second version of this central light, because he was afraid that it might be destroyed in Apartheid South Africa. That second light is stored in the vaults of the Victoria and Albert Museum.