The Great West Window ~ Procter Hall
By William and Annie Lee Willet
By William and Annie Lee Willet
To understand this window, one must think of music expressed in permanent form - prepared and waiting for God's sunlight to evoke from its myriad mosaics the harmony of a color symphony; an oratorio sweeping from a great organ, only with this advantage - that the window waits for no human hand to bring forth its melodies, but speaks in tones of healing to all who behold it, irradiated by the light of Heaven. The colors in this window, as in those of the windows of Chartres, are mostly primitive, very little use being made of secondary tints and none at all of tertiary. They are produced entirely by superimposing one glass upon another and the juxtaposing of one color to another, by which means are set in vibration those same waves of color which, for hundreds of years have given life to the gray walls of the Cathedral of Chartres. The tedious and expensive, but absolutely fadeless process of flashing and aciding and etching, expounded by Albrecht Durer and other ancient glass artists were employed by Mr. and Mrs. Willet, the artists and makers of the window; the outlines and such slight modeling as was necessary, being produced by mineral stains, fused by intense heat into the very glass itself, thus creating the most imperishable form of art known.
In the Predella, or seven lower lancets, separated by the broad lateral division in the stone work, is shown the Boy Christ with the Doctors, a subject which lends itself naturally to a composition in which each panel presents a separate group complete in itself, thus avoiding any carrying through of bodies, draperies or accessories, a breach of the Law of Decoration, frequently committed and which violates the first principles of Gothic glass. The backgrounds are flat and formalistic diapers, accentuating this separation by the variety of their pattern and color. Each lancet is bordered by a conventional canopied design, clearly detached, the whole being a purely flat transparent section of the wall itself in which the composition, embellishments, leading and all the details are Mediaeval Gothic.
In the center panel is the Divine Child, draped in the simple tunic worn by the Oriental boy of the humbler classes. The relaxed unconsciousness of childhood is at once noticeable; the face conforms to the canonical portrait of Christian Art, handed down from the catacombs and accepted ever since by the Church of both the East and the West. The school of the Sanhedrin is seated in the Temple. In their midst, strange unaccustomed sight, a lad of twelve, asking questions at which they wonder, and giving them answers at the wisdom of which they marvel.
The color music begins here softly, in tender cadence, with the Light of Ages emanating from the Child, who with eyes that discern the Spiritual, gazes beyond the questioning Doctors, to His Divine Father, as more vitally real to him than the surrounding scene, which interests, without absorbing Him. The greatest brilliancy is focussed in this panel, radiating therefrom to the adjacent lancets, where the white light of the prism separates, to blaze with almost unimagined splendor in the reds, blues, greens and purples of the robes on the Doctors of Sanhedrin.
To the immediate left of the Child, Nicodemus, seated, typifies surprise and wonder; to him later, this lad grown to man's estate, propounded the great condition of His mission, "Ye must be born again." At the immediate right presses Joseph of Arimathea, who twenty-one years later, when the final trial came, "consented not to the deed of them," and "came by night and besought the body of Jesus." These two figures catch most of the radiated brilliancy, being clothed with the highest keys of the prism - violet and gold.
In the second lancet from the center stands Gamaliel, a boy of nineteen, studying a scroll of the Law; Rabban Simeon, his father, eagerly faces the light, while the gentle Hillel, his grandfather leans on his shoulder, eager to hear. In the panel to the extreme right is Annas (elected High Priest that year), with two associates, turning their back on the object of universal regard - jealous of his own pre-eminence.
With crashing symbols of green on red, blue on purple and orange, echoes the music of the prism; and now we enter with statlier measure, the second tier of lancets, illuminated by the reposeful figures symbolizing the Seven Liberal Arts of Christian Learning, which, surviving the persecution of heathendom, with its lions of the Arena, and burning torches of the Seven Hills, sprang into joyful, tranquil life, wherever the Child came to rule.
Logic fitly occupies the central panel, her foot resting on the Book of Life, her pale green robe scintillating with light, and her eyes straight ahead. At her right, Rhetoric, the grammarians aid to the expression of thought; at her left, Grammar, with her manuscript; next Geometry, with triangle and compass, the perfectness of God's creations, symbolized by the hexagon cells of the honeycomb at her feet. Then Arithmetic, with patient face, teaching the manchild at her feet the science of numbers. Astronomy on the right, holding a Star, and beside her Music with her lyre, both gazing upward to the firmament, where the traceried openings are filled with constellations borne by Angels; here the music swells through the deepest blues of the nights sky, reaching its profoundest notes in the mysterious purples of the unfathomed heavens, whence vanished from the Gallilean hills the visible presence of the LIGHT and into the embraces of whose love we also shall with confidence commit our spirits.
The theme of the window lettered in the Latin language, being translated, reads:
This window is the gift of Mr. William Cooper Procter, in memory of his parents. The artists and makers of this window are Mr. and Mrs. William Willet, Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. They are also the makers of the Sanctuary Window in the U. S. Military Academy, West Point.
"The Great West Window, Procter Hall, Graduate School, Princeton, N.J.", c. 1918; from the Historical Subject Files, Grounds and Buildings; Box 5A; Princeton University Archives; Department of Rare Books and Special Collections; Princeton University Libraries.