The Oxford Magazine is launching a new digital print magazine.
The Oxford Magazine is launching a new digital print magazine.

Exquisite stained glass ‘Wappenscheiben’ returns to Greys Court


Exquisite stained glass ‘Wappenscheiben’ returns to Greys Court. Picture: Glass conservator Claire Mardall with stained glass panel at Greys Court
Exquisite stained glass ‘Wappenscheiben’ returns to Greys Court. Picture: Glass conservator Claire Mardall with stained glass panel at Greys Court

The last of five 15/16th century stained glass panels, or Wappenscheiben, have been reinstalled at Greys Court after conservation. The small-scale Swiss artworks feature bold heraldry designs alongside intricate paintings of everyday life… and less everyday occurrences. In one scene, St Ida is pictured being thrown from a window at the top of a castle, Game of Thrones style.

5 part of Greys Court stained glass panel. Picture: National Trust/John Hammond

According to legend, a raven stole Ida’s wedding ring, which was then found in a bird’s nest by a hunter. When her husband, the Count, noticed the ring on the hunter’s hand, he accused Ida of infidelity. He had the hunter killed and threw Ida out of his castle window. However, due to her innocence, God miraculously saved her, and she dedicated her life to God as a hermit. Later, her repentant husband had a hermitage built for her in Au, where she died in the name of holiness and was venerated as a saint.

A new exhibition opens on 12 February.

A new exhibition about the panels opens in the library at Greys Court on 12 February 2024. It tells the story of how the Swiss stained glass came to be at Greys Court, how they were restored, and the stories depicted on them.

The panels are displayed in the landing window on the stairs. They were placed in their current location after Sir Felix Brunner bought Greys Court in 1937. They were part of his grandfather’s collection of Swiss ceramics, furniture and weaponry. 

Wappenscheiben were common in Switzerland and Southern Germany from the late 1400s. 

When new civic buildings were erected, donors would contribute towards the construction. The stained glass panels were a record of their gift and included the donor’s heraldry in the design so that everyone would witness their power and generosity. 

After 1630, the occurrence of Wappenscheiben declined, and many were removed or sold to collectors. They were very popular with 18th century Grand Tourists who visited Switzerland as part of their travels, and several English country houses contain them.

The designs are incredibly intricate and feature religious stories in both painted and stained glass. On several of the panels is the heraldic crest of a water fountain on a red background – this is the Brunner family crest. 

Greys Court stained glass panels. Image: National Trust/John Hammond
Greys Court stained glass panels incorporating a water fountain on a red background. Image: National Trust/John Hammond

In 2019, the panels were found to be cracking, and the leads were failing. The panels were suffering from bearing weight after being embedded with the leaded lights of the window and were also stressed by changing temperatures. 

The restoration work involved removing the stained-glass panels and replacing them in the integral structure with clear, UV light-protecting glass. Inside this, the restored panels are supported in U-channel frames, secured by metal bars into the stonework.

This enables the panels to be independent from the rest of the window, reducing movement and allowing them to be removed without disturbing the rest of the window if future restoration work is needed. The intervention also provides a thermal buffer by creating a small gap around the panel, allowing a gentle flow of air to circulate. 

The restoration work was carried out by Holy Well Glass, a centre of excellence specialising in the conservation, restoration and design of stained glass.

Katarina Robinson, Senior Collections and House Officer, Greys Court, said: “I think these panels are beautiful. I see them as glass artworks that were meant to inspire and communicate. Visitors are always drawn to them and wonder about the stories they depict. This conservation work will allow visitors to get up close and personal with the panels, whilst protecting them for the future.”

Claire Mardall, Stained Glass Painter and Conservator, Holywell Glass, said: “What I really like about these decorative residential panels is the details. They have lovely painting all over, but when you look in the background you see little scenes of dogs, castles, people walking in the woods. All of the five panels have these fine details, which are really sweet – or funny!”

More from The Oxford Magazine