Stained Glass Windows
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Armstrong Browning Library building is its sixty-two stained glass windows, believed to be the largest collection of secular stained glass in the world. These brilliantly hued, inspirational windows illustrate the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning in a stunning medium of light and color. The Language of Stained Glass provides a guide to the symbolism of the colors.
Most of the windows represent themes from Robert Browning's poetry, eight are based on Elizabeth Barrett Browning's well-known Sonnets from the Portuguese, and four of the newest windows contain lines from both poets. Three striking cathedral windows in the McLean Foyer of Meditation, very different from the pictorial style throughout the rest of the building, transmit a feeling of sunrise or sunset as the shades of glass vary from deep amber to pale lavender. A section of one of these windows appears at the right.
Six American stained glass studios are represented in the building. The three oldest windows in the collection, dating to 1924 and originally installed in the Browning Room of Carroll Library, were designed by Haskins Glass Studio of Rochester, New York. The majority of the windows, commissioned in the late 1940s and early 1950s as the building was being planned and built, were created by Charles J. Connick Associates, Inc. of Boston, Massachusetts, and by Jacoby Art Glass Company of Saint Louis, Missouri.
In the 1960s and 1970s, eight more Connick windows were added to the third floor. Three of these windows completed the span of stained glass across the front of the building, while the other five enhanced the southwest corner. The remaining five window spaces on the northeast corner of the third floor were filled with stained glass in the 1980s, the work of Charles J. Connick Associates, Inc., Lynn Hovey Studio, Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and L. L. Sams Stained Glass of Waco, Texas.
The newest windows, created by the Willet Stained Glass Studios of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, now Willet Hauser Architectural Glass, grace the Cox Reception Hall on the first floor. The six colorful windows, installed between 2000 and 2007, depict Italian scenes significant to the Brownings. The completion of the "Italy and the Brownings" project essentially closes the chapter on stained glass at the Armstrong Browning Library.
The Language of Stained Glass
(The symbolism of color as established by Dante)
...with the singing of those Flames devout
Which make themselves a cowl of six wings.
When Dante spoke of the Seraphim—the first of the nine choirs of Angels—the color that "glows" was the pure orange vermillion which his fellow citizens and brothers-in-spirit (the painters, illuminators, and glassmen) knew as RED. So it may be said that pure RED is the color of divine love, of the Holy Spirit, of courage, self-sacrifice, martyrdom, and all the warm impulses that belong to the greathearted everywhere. RED is the warm, active color.
The BLUE-winged Cherubim—the second from the throne of God in the Choir of Angels—symbolize God's wisdom. The BLUE of the Middle Ages was a pure cobalt, often shading from deep to light, approaching sapphire. "BLUE is the light of heaven; BLUE is the cool, contemplative color, the perfect foil for red." BLUE is also symbolic of profound meditation, of enduring loyalty, of eternity.
GOLD (or YELLOW) is the symbol of the sun, of the goodness of God, of treasure in heaven. GOLD is the color of spiritual achievement, of ripe harvests, or the good life; and, as it merges into golden browns and orange tans, it recalls the good treasures of the earth.
GREEN, uniting the "wisdom" of blue with the "wealth" of gold, symbolizes hope and victory over dullness and ignorance; GREEN symbolizes happiness and the gaiety we associate with springtime and youth; it symbolizes good humor, fun.
WHITE is the color of serenity and of peace, of purity and of the joy that belongs to the pure in heart; WHITE is the symbol of faith as well as of innocence.
VIOLET (or PURPLE), uniting the "wisdom" and "love" symbolized by blue and red, is the symbol of justice and of royalty. PURPLE also stands for suffering and mystery and was the glassman's color for black, expressing negation, mourning, and death. When set forth with white, it stands for humility and purity.
Adapted from: Charles J. Connick, "The Language of Stained Glass," Advance, CXXXVI, No. 4 (April, 1944), 6.