Gorgeous art and the religious meaning that inspired it are highlighted in this engaging, lavishly illustrated guide to a landmark New York church.
Whiteford, a member of the congregation, takes readers on a tour of Grace Episcopal Church, a Gothic revival edifice completed in 1848 and adorned over the years with objets d’art by the wealthy families who worshipped there. He takes readers around the building’s premises, pointing out the building’s decorative motifs and their Christian significance, from the trefoil patterns suggesting the Holy Trinity to the carved angels playing musical instruments to the repeating floor patterns and representation of the alpha and omega of God’s eternal presence. The book’s centerpiece is its examinations of the church’s glorious stained-glass windows. Whiteford visits each in turn, reviewing the history of the installation and the donors along with details on the artists and stained-glass manufacturers that created it, among them Tiffany and the English design firm Clayton & Bell. His main effort is spent on involved analysis of the iconography in these scenes of biblical figures and saints, many of which require some detective work to identify. (One lamb-hefting prophet could be either John the Baptist or Isaiah, and it’s anybody’s guess which of hundreds of saints are the ones depicted in a panel of martyrs.) Whiteford makes an interesting guide and curator, but the book’s soul resides in Ritter’s sumptuous, full-color photographs, which show off the extraordinary beauty of the church’s windows: the rich colors and Breughel-esque crowd of the Marriage at Cana window; the mystical pastorale of Psalm 23 window; Tiffany’s sublime Christ with Mary and Martha window, its muted colors and intimate setting suffused with subtle light. The result is a fine showcase for Grace Church’s treasures that will make tourists and neighbors alike want to explore it.
The informative, eye-catching catalog of an architectural and artistic gem.