Herkenrode Stained Glass book review #2

This is the second part of a passionate (and I hope modest) layman’s tentative review of the book The Stained Glass of Herkenrode Abbey [TSGHA] by Isabelle Lecocq and Yvette Vanden Bemden, published by the British Academy and Oxford University Press, 2022.

DRAFT: I am very open to comment and correction

This second part finds us still in the foothills of this mighty tome, venturing no further than about page 40 and covering a touching story which this matter-of-fact account rather underplays. Part of the book’s introductory text by its main authors, and part of an essay by Marie Groll (“The Herkenrode Glass at Lichfield: Context, acquisition, installation and restoration”) draw our attention to the role of Sir Brooke Boothby in bringing this 16th Century Low Countries stained glass to Lichfield.

Boothby was a minor landowner, an aesthete, some sort of intellectual, a man equally at home in the provincial Midlands and on the Continent (especially France and the Low Countries). Quite a lot is known about his life, but there is only one sustained biography of the man, Jacques Zonneveld’s Sir Brooke Boothby: Rousseau’s roving baronet friend (2003). One journal reviewer, Nigel Aston, dismisses the work as failing, not least because it is littered with inaccuracies (but I haven’t read the whole piece, which is behind an OUP paywall). More easily available, but anonymous, is a friendly review of the book at California State University Long Beach’s website. This says the book is “arduous” but the piece reinforces the scatter of online material about Boothby. The review rounds out online material about Boothby. He was well-known and popular in the intellectual world of Lichfield, where there were Erasmus Darwin, Samuel Johnson and Anna Seward for stimulating company. A London hostess thought Boothby an intellectual fop. He had what looks like an almost standard 18th Century passion for collecting, for artistic patronage, and for generosity. He was a friend or acquaintance of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, wrote a biography of the philosopher and entered into complicated debate about Rousseau and Tom Paine. He was a poet, and the death of an adored young daughter wrung from him moving verse spun around a sculpture of her he had commissioned during her life. He was wonderfully captured (langorous, romantic, reclining against a tree) by Joseph Wright of Derby. He was a poor manager of his affairs and ran through three fortunes, including his exasperated wife’s.

I can’t say whether Zonneveld touches on Boothby’s dealings with Herkenrode’s stained glass. In any case, TSGHA’s accounts of Boothby and the glass, especially the extended essay by Marie Groll, seem likely to be the most up-to-date and thorough so far. They mostly seem to be based on the correspondence between the  increasingly impoverished and expatriated aristocrat and the Lichfield Cathedral authorities, though useful background seems to have derived from, in particular, Peter Martin’s MPhil thesis, The European Trade in Stained Glass, with Special Reference to the Trade between the Rhineland and the United Kingdom 1794-1835  (available as a PDF, York, 2012).  These researchers allow the reader to imagine that Boothby was rather noble in his dealings with the cathedral. For reasons I don’t think we are told, Boothby was in Liège at the time when the abbey’s stained glass became available for purchase. On June 1, 1802 he wrote to the cathedral saying that out of his “love of a place I consider to be my second home… I have contracted for the purchase of 17 windows of what appears to me the finest painted glass I have almost ever seen”. He thought the expense would not exceed £160.  It seems he had come across the glass in situ in the abbey’s church, perhaps at first only as a dedicated cultural tourist. As an alert Lichfield local, he must have been well aware that in Cromwell’s time the cathedral’s medieval stained glass had been largely destroyed. In a sequencing I am not entirely sure about, his negotiations to buy the glass from its current owner and to sell it on to Lichfield cathedral were simultaneous and intricately dovetailed. He was a part-time and perhaps rather needy dealer in artefacts on his own account, not least with the grandest of all Midlanders, Henry William Cavendish, 3rd Duke of Portland, and twice Prime Minister. Boothby (perhaps by parentage, I haven’t checked yet) may have been a Cavendish of sorts. Anyway he would have been well aware that the family had spawned several profligate, generous collectors. (See my post on Midlands patronesses.) But in spite of very probably needing the money, he made no attempt to profit from the cathedral deal.  He wanted Lichfield to have the glass at the bargain price he had paid for it, knowing that he (and probably the cathedral) believed that the English were getting an exceptional deal. He seems not have priced-in his large expenditure of time and probably anxiety in overseeing the transactions and the removal, packing and shipping of the precious glass. The cathedral, seemingly trusting him very much, presumed the glass to be well worth having and demanded no further evidence as to its quality. For a brief moment, both ends of the deal seemed to be settled. Then, the cathedral people were slow to finalise their end whilst the owner of the glass belatedly realized that there was a new and increasing fashion for this sort of material and that the Treaty of Amiens meant that there was (perhaps temporarily) less bureaucracy and risk in such export deals than formerly. Accordingly, the Flanders man jacked-up his price to around £200. Boothby seems to have been prepared to absorb the new sum rather than gazzump the cathedral, but they did come through with the additional sum. There were complications with the London bankers who were handling the money transaction.

Eventually, all was settled and Boothby could report the eleven days involved in dismounting the glass, which he witnessed; and then his (fairly) careful cataloguing (vital to its re-assembly in England), and its packing. There was correspondence about the safest and swiftest shipping to England.  The most vivid letter from Boothby to the cathedral authorities has him in Liège on the morning of 8 January 1803 watching with satisfaction as the boat with its precious cargo passes his window on its way down to Rotterdam along the River Meuse. In the great port the sailing ship Ann took the cargo on board, headed for Hull, skippered by William Jackson. Partly because I once made about half of the ensuing trip inland (on a Russian timber ship, for The Independent), I am moved by the thought of the glass travelling (presumably by barge or wherry) “up the Humber estuary, into the River Trent, through Gainsborough (Lincolnshire), and Shardlow (Derbyshire)” and then “via the Trent and Mersey and Fradey, Wyrely, and Essington canals, arriving at Gallows Wharf in Lichfield on 28 May, just short of a year after the dean was first offered the glass”. 

Once the glass was in England, the cathedral seems to have spurned Boothby’s offers of help in organizing the unpacking and in installing the windows. That work went partly to the distinguished stained glass specialist, Francis Eginton, whose own stained glass window, installed a decade before, was displaced by the Herkenrode wonders. Luckily for Eginton’s pride, perhaps, and for the cathedral’s budget the latter was able to sell-on the work – a Resurrection piece which followed a Reynolds painting – to an Irish entrepreneur who re-installed it in his local church. The Eginton, not least in mimicking a work in oil, was what was called “painterly” window work. The Irishman paid £120 for Eginton’s Resurrection (which, it will be recalled) was more than half the cathedral’s bill for acquiring the hugely bigger Herkenrode haul, with its own Resurrection depiction and much more of the Redemption narrative.


Getting personal

At two points I feel Boothby’s behavior in the Herkenrode transaction rather personally. A few years ago I was sent a review copy of Le Saint Joseph Charpentier de Georges de la Tour: un don au Louvre de Percy Moore Turner, produced under the direction of Dimitri Salmon of the Louvre (a third of the price but not far off the heft of TSGHA). I surmise that Moore Turner could perhaps afford to be generous but the point of similarity between his gift to the Louvre and Boothby’s no-profit transaction with Lichfield cathedral is that the art world does have an intriguing mix of ordinary but sometimes sordid transactionalism and self-seeking but often heartfelt philanthropy. My grandfather, Stanley Kennedy North has a walk-on part in the London-Louvre saga. (See my post on SKN.) Quite separately, in 1911 the V&A paid a few pounds for at least one of the 129  SKN watercolours of homegrown English medieval stained glass in their possession. I am not sure whether they had had some others from him as a donation, or whether the impoverished Stanley was throughout getting a modest journeyman’s fee for out-of-Town travel and his labours of love, aged 23 or 24. By the way, the payment was for Stanley’s depiction in glass of a helmeted stalwart who is surmised to be Sir Thomas Hungerford. It’s in St Leonard’s church – not the castle chapel – in Farleigh Hungerford, Somerset, which the fashionable knight risked castellating. Stanley’s is the best available depiction of the portrait since the small original is in need of the sort of care lavished on Herkenrode’s glass. Besides, Stanley’s watercolour brush “paintshops” out a disfiguring lead bar which blots out part of the knight’s eyes and inserts an exquisite rather quizzical gaze.

Sailing ship Ann: possible confusion

TSGHA has a portrait (page c) of a sailing ship Ann at sea (National Maritime Museum, item BH396) but I am not 100 per cent sure the publishers have the right ship, since NMM’s site says theirs was engaged on the plantation trade from Liverpool and there is another Ann, reported on the tynebuiltships.co.uk website: she was built by Bulmers of South Shields in 1802 and conceivably traded in the North Sea for her entire career. But TSGHA has the Ann as registered to James Crawfurd of Crawfurd & Co and captained by “a William Jackson” and those names and other information I haven’t seen may confirm that it is me who is confused.

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Publication date

11 May 2022


Mind & body; On art; On books