Thursday, October 20, 2016

Highlights from the Permanent Collection: "Saint George and the Dragon"

This Tiffany stained-glass window depicting St. George and the Dragon has made a circuitous journey over seven decades to its current home. Installed in the second-floor overlook of the Georgia Museum of Art, in windows facing east, this beautifully crafted work of art is finally on view to the public.

The subject of the window is the story of St. George. In the tale, a dragon lives in a spring or lake, preventing local townspeople from gathering water. To pacify and distract the creature, the villagers offer up sheep as a sacrifice. If no sheep are available, a maiden is offered. The king’s daughter is one such maiden, but while she awaits her fate, St. George appears on horseback, makes the sign of the cross and slays the dragon. The citizens then convert to Christianity.

 The window shows St. George after his triumph, with his foot on the head of the monster, a final gasp of flame issuing from its mouth. The saint’s delicately painted face shows
his gaze heavenward. The tips of his sword and standard have a faint blood-red tinge. Layered, rippled blue glass creates the effect of undulating water in the lake behind him, and pinkish drapery glass captures the folds of his cape. St. George’s scale-like armor is made up of numerous small sections of green leaded glass. The brilliant colors and various textures of the glass help accentuate the moment of his victory. 

Much of the window’s history was lost over time and changes of stewardship. Until recently, it was listed in the museum’s files as by an unknown artist, possibly German, but dedicated investigation has uncovered some of its full story. Before his death in 1938, George Foster Peabody, famed philanthropist and friend to the University of Georgia, wrote to UGA president Harmon Caldwell to donate the window to the university. The window was eventually installed on campus in Strahan House, a faculty residence. It stayed there until the mid-1960s, when the building was razed for the new Law Library. At this time, the window was transferred to the museum’s permanent collection.

For more than 30 years, the window was installed in the stairwell of the original Georgia Museum of Art on North Campus, now the university’s administration building. When the museum relocated in 1996, the window was removed and remained crated and in storage for 15 years. As part of the museum’s subsequent renovation and expansion, completed in 2011, it was finally ready to go back on display.

Unfortunately, the window was damaged during preparations for that opening and required considerable conservation. Botti Studios in Chicago, Illinois, worked on the window for approximately two years, documenting it in detail and removing, cleaning, conserving and reinstalling much of the stained glass. Once the window returned to Athens, work began in earnest to design and construct a mount so that the work of art could be illuminated with natural light during the day and backlit during the evening with LEDs. Local craftsman Hunt Leathers led a team to create an elegant steel frame to house the several-hundred-pound window within the mullions of the overlook window.

The window’s damage resulted in unforeseen benefits. During the restoration, with the help of archivists Steven Brown and Gilbert Head at UGA and local stained-glass artist Marianne Parr, I was able to rediscover the window’s history and, most important, its maker. In addition, its placement was upgraded to a more prominent location than had been planned in 2011. The window, in a sense, was reborn.

Annelies Mondi
Deputy Director

This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2016 issue of Facet.

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