The Cotswolds: The Magnificent Stained Glass of Fairford Church with Athene Reiss - Context Travel

The Cotswolds: The Magnificent Stained Glass of Fairford Church with Athene Reiss


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This seminar will explore the beautiful, exceptionally well-preserved, and richly colored medieval stained glass of St Mary’s, Fairford, a wealthy wool church located in the heart of the picturesque Cotswold Hills in the UK.

St Mary’s Fairford contains the most stunning set of original stained glass of any parish church in England. In its twenty-eight windows, colored light is shaped to visualize artistic and religious developments of the time. The result is a fascinating cycle of images that transforms this elegant wool church nestled in the Cotswold Hills into a theological work of art that can transport us back to the hearts and minds of people living in England 500 years ago.

In the early sixteenth century, when the windows were designed, the art of stained glass making stood at an artistic and theological juncture. By 1500, medieval traditions of making pictures out of glass and telling biblical stories in images had both become highly sophisticated systems. At the same time, Renaissance pictorial inventions and a growing urgency around communicating religious ideas to a wide public were circulating throughout Europe. Together, these circumstances created a fertile context for the production of Fairford’s beautiful, complex, and affecting stained glass windows.

The scenes tell the story of sin and salvation, from the serpent’s temptation of Adam and Eve to the Last Judgement, when saved souls are escorted to heaven by angels, while devils gleefully lead the damned to a fiery hell pit. In between, we find devotion to the Virgin Mary, the story of Christ’s crucifixion, ancient fathers of the Church, and patriarchs of the Old Testament. The scenes and subjects represented deep connections between past, present, and future for their sixteenth-century viewers and, with attention, can do so for us today as well.

Fairford is one of the hidden gems of English art. This session will reveal its pictorial treasures in all their glory by sharing a range of approaches that will enable us to appreciate the transformative power of color in representing everything from apples to dragons.

Led by an expert on the History of European Art, Dr. Athene Reiss, this interactive seminar will explore the art and artifice of the remarkable stained glass at Fairford. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an appreciation of what makes this series of windows so exceptional.

Athene Reiss was born in Oxford, grew up in Connecticut in the US, and returned to Oxford, where she has lived and taught for the past 25 years. She has published a book and articles on topics in medieval art and environmental education. She loves teaching art and architectural history, and is particularly passionate about encouraging deep engagement with artistic visualisations of ideas and and allowing works of art to help us understand the past and question the present. Athene has also taught environmental education to children and adults and enjoys exploring Oxford's mix of cultural and natural environments.

This conversation is not suitable for children under age 16

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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