By Ashley Garber, Project Assistant.
We recently received an inquiry asking us how rare it is for the portrait of an individual casualty to be memorialised in a stained glass window. Whilst the names of the fallen usually serve as the focus for commemoration on memorials, some memorials do include a portrait of the dead, and stained glass windows are particularly expressive examples of this.
Portrait windows would have been very expensive, and only a few families would have been able to afford the cost of such a memorial. Even so, we have recorded 11 definite examples.
These include a window in St Peters Church, Oughtrington, Cheshire, which depicts Captain Althorp Ridgway, who died 12th May 1915. Ridgway is dressed in the armour of a medieval knight and his portrait actually appears twice in the window: as the face of the more prominent standing knight, and also in profile as the kneeling knight below. Local lore claims that the artist, Archibald K Nicholson, not having met Ridgway, relied on a photograph of him in order to complete these portraits.
The Wilson brothers memorial window in St Andrews Church, Chippenham, Wiltshire is a poignant family portrait.
All three brothers – Herbert Raymond, Evelyn Seppings, and Geoffrey Mervyn Underhill – were killed in the First World War. They appear in uniform in the window, yet they do not constitute the focus, which is dominated by Archangels and scenes of war, regimental devices and references to Flanders.
Instead, the portraits appear in the background in the far left light, behind the figure of a grieving woman, which may be their mother.
The medium of portrait windows allows an opportunity to define relationships visually in a way that other memorial types cannot.
An example of this is the East window in St Wilfrids Chapel in Church Norton, Chichester. This window was commissioned by Captain Maurice Wingfield, owner of the nearby Norton Priory, and commemorates, in portraiture, his wife Stephanie Agnes, who died in 1918; his brother Captain John Wingfield, who died of wounds 29th April 1915; and his close friend, Captain the Honourable Thomas Agar-Roberts MP, who died on 30th September 1915, also of wounds.
Both men appear dressed in armour in the window and Stephanie Agnes is depicted as the Agnes Dei.