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exterior, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Troy, NY 58 3RD Street, Troy, NY
   If you're finding your way here directly, this diary is a continuation of one posted yesterday looking at the incredible St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Troy, NY as seen above. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it is famous for its outstanding interior designed by the Tiffany Company back in the 1890's.

Part One of this series looked at some of the details of the Gothic style interior. Tonight we're going to take a look at the stained glass windows. I'm not going to be able to bring you a complete gallery of every window - that would be an exhausting project that would take days or weeks and some specialized camera gear to do it full justice. But, I think I have a few highlights and images that will well repay your time. Follow me past the Orange Omnilepticon, and prepare to be amazed.

    Before I get too far in to this, let me make some disclosures. I promise I'll get to the pictures right after that. The photographs you are about to see were taken with an iPhone 4 and a Nikon Coolpix point and shoot digital camera. Some of them were stitched together into panoramas using a phone app called AutoStitch with some further editing in iPhoto and Photoshop. Resolution has been reduced so this diary won't take forever to load. A few photos were taken using flash; most were taken using available light.

      Photographing stained glass is a real challenge. The full range of bright to dark light levels is not as easily captured by a camera as it is by the human eye. HDR photography is starting to address that, but I didn't get the chance to try it with equipment I was using. The camera is a lot more sensitive to the source of light in a picture as well; incandescent lights add a yellow tinge, fluorescents tend to a bluer tint, and outdoor light is entirely dependent on the weather and the time of day. Then, try passing that light through glass of various colors, textures, and thicknesses and coming up with an acceptable image.

   It ain't easy. Plus there's the perspective effect. If you stand at the bottom of a window reaching all the way up a tall wall and photograph it, you get a window that gets increasingly narrow the higher up you look. The eye and brain can sort it out, but the camera can't without some help. One trick is to get way back and zoom in with a telephoto lens, ideally from a point level with the midpoint of the window. A second is to use a perspective correcting lens that can be tilted and shifted to compensate for the angles involved. Some correction can also be applied after the fact with image manipulation software. Anyone who wants to do architecture photography on a regular basis has to deal with this.

Okay, on to the windows!

Tiffany stained glass window, detail of Angel visiting Mary, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Troy, NY
This, if I get the gist of the imagery, is a window on the north side of the church showing an angel visiting the Virgin Mary to tell her she's going to be the mother of a very special child. This is a window which came from Tiffany Company, and it has some distinguishing characteristics that make it a really outstanding example of artistry in glass.

If you look at the top part, you can see there are small pieces that somehow seem to glow within the larger design like illuminated jewels. Somehow the artisans that crafted the window were able to use tricks that allowed some pieces to transmit more light than those around them, so they always appear brighter. It's not just a trick of the color of the glass; if I heard the guide correctly, they also shaped the individual pieces to pull it off. I'm speculating, but I can imagine something like a curve to the outside of the glass piece that acts like a magnifying glass to collect and focus the light.

A couple of other points. I used Photoshop to 'fix' the perspective - but you can see I was less successful balancing the bright sections against the darker. No matter - the closeup below brings out some critical details.

detail of Tiffany stained glass window, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Troy, NY
Closeup of Mary being visited by an angel of the Lord
There are some things in here that are mind-boggling when you take a closer look. The opalescent quality of the glass is apparent in some pieces. Very few of the pieces are one pure color - they ripple and blend. It's partly a trick of texturing and folding the glass while still soft, and another technique is applying colors that become fused to the glass. If you look at the dove above Mary's head, you can see what looks like a ray of light shining down upon her - across more than one piece of glass in a uniform fashion that bespeaks the control they had over the process. It's like something you'd expect to see in a painting, not executed in glass.

If you look at the large structural element that goes right up through the middle of the scene, there's another element at work. It bisects an arch - but the columns holding the arch have the same spacing as the other arches in the picture. The scene is composed so that you don't get the sense that you're looking at one picture split into two halves - it's one continuous scene that happens to have that bar blocking the view of part of it. It's not like looking at a scene on a piece of flat glass - it's like looking through an opening into that scene. Now let's contrast that with another window from a different company.

stained glass window,  St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Troy, NY
Go ye forth into all the world
This window is located on the west wall of the church. While the colors are bright and vivid, there are some obvious differences. The decorative elements at the top and bottom of the two halves of the window are 'flatter' - there's not the same sense that parts of them stand out in particular. The scene of Christ telling his disciples to go out and spread the Gospel is much more stylized. The two halves are of the same scene, but here it's obviously split into two parts. There's less of a sense of perspective, less subtlety to the use of shading in the picture. It's much closer to the imagery of the Middle Ages than the Renaissance.

Let's go on to one more example of Tiffany before getting to the most dramatic window in the church. Here's another detail from a window in the north wall of the church, a scene of Christ blessing the children.

detail Tiffany stained glass window, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Troy, NY
The blessing of the children.
This looks like an illustration, not pieces of glass in a frame. Notice how the clothing drapes and folds around the figures. If you look, the shading of the cloth transitions smoothly from piece of glass to piece. Compare it to the robes of Christ in the picture above to appreciate the difference. Note also the depth to the picture, the naturalness of the poses in this scene. It's not quite photorealistic, but it's impressive nonetheless. The rest of the scene includes some fanciful boughs overhead, and a landscape of hills receding into the distance.

The church website history page notes that: "Among Tiffany's experts was J.A. Holzer, an artist renowned for his mosaic work as well as stained glass." As to the other windows, "Other windows, by Cox and Sons of London, the Lamb Studio of New Jersey, and a Boston firm, relate harmoniously to those of Tiffany's Holzer". According to wikipedia, Holzer contributed to numerous Tiffany projects; if they're comparable to what he executed in Troy, it's a wonder he isn't better known.

While the rest of the church is certainly worth seeing, the east wall is especially outstanding. Holzer outdid himself with one huge scene composed across multiple sections. Here's a picture of the altar, the icons on the wall behind it in little alcoves, and the window rising above them.

Altar and main window (Tiffany) in St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Troy, NY
East wall of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Troy, NY with the altar and the J.A. Holzer window above it.
Let's take a closer look. Here's the left section. (I'm pretty sure I'm missing a lot of allegory here; this is my best guest as to what's going on. With an angel presiding dramatically in mid air, the faithful look up and ascend, receding into the distance. Above them are more angels and saints.
Tiffany stained glass window, left section of main window over altar, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Troy, NY
Left section of Great Window in east wall of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Troy, NY.
The right section of the window is similar to the left.
East window right section, stained glass Tiffany, in St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Troy, NY
Right section of east window.
The center section of the window is dramatic. The Lord on his throne in Heaven, angels ranked behind him, below his throne a rainbow, below that two more angels, and at the very bottom, Christ kneeling in prayer. (That's my best guess, FWIW.)
center section of main window over altar, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Troy, NY, Tiffany
Center section of Tiffany stained glass window in the east wall of St. Paul's Church in Troy, NY
Now that you've had a chance to see some of the detail, I've put together a montage of the three pictures above, so you can appreciate the composition. The three pictures were taken from the same spot, a little to the side and looking up. I've two versions, one brightened up to bring out more of the whole scene, at the loss of some detail. Take a look, and I'll discuss them below.
montage of main Tiffany stained glass window in east wall, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Troy, NY, over the altar
Main window, east wall, montage
Main window, East wall St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Tiffany stained glass, Troy, NY
Main window, east wall, montage, brighter.
The effect of the whole window is… cinematic. With the whole composition in view, the things seen on a smaller scale in the other Tiffany windows are used to full effect here.

Consider the light. It radiates out from God on His throne - you see the figures to either side and below illuminated by it. The solitary figure of Christ glows in the light from above, amid the darker elements around him.

Consider the control of color. It flows across the figures and the landscape. There's no sense that the picture is made up of separate pieces of colored glass.

Consider the control of perspective. It becomes clear that the angels at the top are ranked in an arc that passes behind the throne. The figures ascending to Heaven rise up on either side and pass into glory.

When you look at the entire window montage above, it is not all hard to imagine that you are looking through a clear window into another dimension. It's like a portal into another world, a scene set on a vast stage. Imagine what it must be like during the day, as the light coming through the window changes with the angle of the sun and vagaries of the weather - and all the other windows of the church. It would be worth having a web cam set up just to watch that alone.

I'll leave you with one more image from the church. This is a shot of the pulpit I took several years earlier on another visit. You can see the ornate grill work in harmony with that around the lectern (in Part One). The large canopy rising over it has several functions, I'm guessing. It's certainly decorative. I suspect it's curved shape might act as a sound reflector, helping whomever is preaching be better heard out among the pews in the days before microphones and sound systems. I think it also helped in blocking out the glorious light coming from behind - one could look at whomever was speaking from the pulpit without being blinded.

Pulpit in the Tiffany-designed interior of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Troy, NY
Pulpit, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Troy, NY
It's a brave person who climbs up there to speak, considering the responsibility to try to find words worthy of their surroundings.

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into a veritable jewel of architecture in the service of faith. There's more to be seen at the church, of course, and I haven't even touched on the organ and the music outreach program. If you'd like to see still more pictures of the windows and other parts of the church, the Friends of St. Paul's have information on a Tiffany conference that was held there in April, 2013, including a gallery of photos.


Originally posted to xaxnar on Fri Dec 13, 2013 at 07:53 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Shutterbugs.

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