Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion
Edited by Patricia C. Pongracz
(London: D Giles Ltd. and New York: Museum of Biblical Art, 2012)
216 pp., $55 (hardcover)
Reviewed by Dorothy D. Resig
When you hear the name Tiffany, the first image that jumps to mind might be a colorful leaded-glass lamp or perhaps that iconic little blue box with a white ribbon. Yet, between 1878 and 1933, the majority of Tiffany Studios’ commissions were religious works.
Under the guidance of Louis Comfort Tiffany (son of Tiffany & Co. founder Charles Lewis Tiffany), Tiffany Studios became the arbiter of taste and religious identity with their elegant stained-glass windows, luxurious liturgical implements, mosaics and furniture to decorate the houses of worship that sprang up during the religious building boom of the Gilded Age. This is the subject of Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion, a richly illustrated catalog published to accompany a recent exhibit of the same name at the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) in New York City. In the director’s Foreword, MOBIA executive director Ena G. Heller includes an interesting tidbit about Tiffany’s place in American society: “While a majority of [Tiffany Studios’] clients were Protestant, varied other religious groups went to Tiffany for their commissions precisely because Tiffany works conferred a certain status—in the case of Catholic and Jewish communities, for example, reinforcing their status as acculturated Americans.”
Tiffany Studios’ masterful glassmaking skills shone in the countless stained-glass windows they produced for houses of worship. The catalog describes nearly a dozen different techniques for producing various effects in the glass—from drapery glass for depicting garments to streaky glass for water and foliage glass for leaves. The results were stunningly lifelike illustrations of religious scenes that glowed in church windows.
As noted above, however, Tiffany Studios were by no means limited to windows. As an interior designer, Tiffany envisioned every detail that would adorn a church (or synagogue). He and his team designed altarpieces, baptismal fonts, hanging lamps and candlesticks, chairs and even priestly vestments. One 1892 piece, Fathers of the Church, incorporates Tiffany’s garment designs in a beautiful glass mosaic. Color photos and watercolor sketches appear on almost every page of this superb volume, along with informative descriptions and the history of Louis C. Tiffany and Tiffany Studios.