Rediscover stained glass panels to be unveiled at the Reading Public Museum

The Foundation for the Reading Public Museum recently announced a significant new scholarship on two sixteenth century stained glass windows in the permanent collection. The panels will be displayed in the European Gallery on The Museum’s second floor beginning Thursday, September 15, 2022, in custom-built light boxes, and accompanied by text detailing their newly discovered history and attribution.

Two stained and painted glass panels depicting the Crucifixion and the Virgin and Child have been in the collection of the Reading Public Museum since they were purchased in 1933.

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After they were acquired by The Museum, scholars worldwide lost track of their whereabouts. The windows were last displayed in 2012 in The Museum’s Arms and Armor Gallery, before being removed for gallery renovations. At that time, they were described as “sixteenth century Baumgartner panels from Nuremberg” with the artist unknown and the patron only identified by his last name.

Photo courtesy of the Reading Public Museum.

In early 2022, in preparation for reintroducing the windows in the galleries, research was undertaken to determine if more information could be learned using the panels’ inscriptions and known provenance as clues. It was plausible to imagine that a patron with enough wealth in the 16th century to commission multiple stained glass windows would be an individual whose life was well documented.

Before The Museum purchased the panels in 1933, they were owned by American financier Thomas Fortune Ryan; sold to him by prominent New York art dealers the Duveen Brothers; and prior to that a part of the venerable collection of Rodolphe Kann, Paris.

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This spectacular provenance only added to RPM’s optimism that the artist and patron could be equally notable. As research progressed, two panels comparable to Reading’s were found in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, attributed to Bavarian court painter Hans Wertinger (c. 1465 – 1533).

Their similar artistic style, inscriptions of the Baumgartner family name, and Kann provenance, formed the basis for The Museum’s hypothesis that the panels in Reading could also be by the hand of Wertinger.

Catharine Ingersoll, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Art History at Virginia Military Institute and a scholar whose research focuses on southern German visual and material culture in the late medieval and Renaissance periods, was contacted to contribute her professional opinion.

Ingersoll confirmed The Museum’s Hans Wertinger attribution and was able to offer identities for the patrons. According to Ingersoll, the panels were likely made by Hans Wertinger alone or with his workshop, in Landshut, Germany. They were commissioned by Peter Baumgartner and his wife Anna von Trenbach for their family burial chapel in the parish church in Mining, Austria, and completed in 1524.

Photo courtesy of the Reading Public Museum.

The Museum’s panels would have been two of at least seven total stained and painted windows adorning the choir and family chapel in the Mining parish church. Others removed from the church are now part of the formidable collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (referenced above), and the Bavarian National Museum, Munich.

The first panel, comprising the left side of the pairing, depicts Dr. Peter Baumgartner as patron, kneeling in pious devotion at the foot of the cross at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Below the delicately painted image is a hand-lettered inscription reading “Petter Baumgarter Beder Recht Doctor (Peter Baumgartner doctor of both laws),” and the date “1524.” Peter Baumgartner was born circa 1450 and became a professor of canonical law and a doctor of civil law. One of Baumgartner’s most notable contributions is his authorship of the 1516 Reinheitsgebot, the Bavarian purity law for beer.

He married Anna von Trenbach in 1496, whose likeness is portrayed in the second panel, keeling before the Virgin and Christ Child with the inscription “Anna geboren von Trenbach sei gemahel (Anna née von Trenbach his wife).” The young men pictured behind Peter and Anna remain unidentified, but are speculated to be either their biological sons or Peter’s nephews (Hanns and Jorig Baumgartner), who inherited Peter’s estate upon his death one year after the windows were created.

Research on behalf of The Museum was led by Collections Manager and Registrar, Ashley J. Houston, who notes “The Reading Public Museum is thrilled to present these incredible windows along with their full story for the first time, just shy of 500 years after they were created. The panels have always been admired at The Museum for their craftsmanship, quality, and detail. Our newly-found knowledge allows us to place the windows in the larger context of history, Renaissance art patronage, and Wertinger’s oeuvre, which will only serve to enrich our visitor’s understanding and appreciation of them here at RPM. The Museum especially thanks Catharine Ingersoll for her contributions to this important research project.”

An unveiling reception and tasting of German-style beer will be held at The Museum on Thursday, September 15, 2022 with Catharine Ingersoll, Ph.D., speaking on the re-discovery and attribution of the windows, the Baumgartner family, and the making of stained glass in 16th century Europe.

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Berks Weekly
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