Stained Glass As Civil War Commemoration at Harvard

David Marciniak asked:

Stained Glass as Civil War Commemoration at Harvard

Stained glass is more than just artistic expression, it’s also an enduring medium for commemoration and story telling. The art glass windows at Memorial Hall at Harvard are one example of stained glass as history and commemoration saluting the men and their sacrifice during the American Civil war.

About half the windows in the hall, which are “about the size of life,” are Civil War related. The windows were installed between 1879 and 1902, with the majority funded and commissioned by alumni classes.

Notable in this hall of commemoration is John La Farge’s Battle Window. A gift by the class of 1860, which lost 12 classmates in the war, including Robert Gould Shaw, the “Battle Window” depicts one large battle scene.

This window shows the classical warrior in a cuirass holding a sword in his right hand and the staff of a red banner in his left, encouraging his men to follow him into battle.

Harvard Veterans Change Original Theme

The original guidelines by the Harvard Corporation called for each window to be occupied by “one or more upright figures, about the size of life.”  Each figure would be “historical or typical” and restricted to characters prior to the time of Shakespeare. The intention was to see all the characters “unite harmoniously into one great theme.”  But that was not to be.

The end of the Civil War in 1865 certainly didn’t quench the passions the war engendered, and the need for commemoratives and the telling of its history quickly overwhelmed the original standards, creating a priceless American glass treasure.

Art Glass shows Honor and Peace

The class of 1865 in 1900 commissioned Sarah Wyman Whitman to design an opalescence window that commemorates those who surrendered their lives in “The War of Rebellion.” Whitman’s window depicts the allegorical “Honor” in white robes sending an armed warrior into battle. The opposite window shows “Peace” welcoming the warrior, now in civilian clothing, back home with a wreath.

Honoring the scholars who become soldiers, the class of 1857 in 1879 hired Daniel Cottier to relate the story of Elizabethan poet Sir Philip Sydney and Epimainondos, a scholar who helped defeat Sparta. In the stained glass rendition, Cottier shows both as scholars, holding products of learning, while also armed with weapons of war – sword and spear. Both died from wounds in battle, defending their respective countries, and are fit symbols of scholars who died in the Civil War.

Opalescent Healing

Reflecting the ideal of healing the Civil War wounds and the states joining again as one union, the class of 1874 commissioned artist Edward Simmons and Tiffany Studios in 1892 to create the reconciliation of Themistocles and Aristeidis the night before the battle of Salamis. Themistocles, wearing a white robe, carries a rolled scroll while his left hand is extended toward Aristeidis in greeting. Aristeidis, holding a staff, a symbol of wisdom, extends his right hand toward Themistocles in friendship. The opalescence glass of this window represents the end of the Reconstruction Period in American history.

Harvard and its alumni, using the classical education of that period, illustrate perfectly commemoration in art glass. It’s also an exemplary model of what can be done should an institution, school, business or place of worship decide to tell a story in stained glass.

More detailed information, including pictures of the windows in Harvard’s Memorial Hall, is at

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One Response to “Stained Glass As Civil War Commemoration at Harvard”

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