I've looked at a great deal of stained glass recently, and seen an awful lot of men: saints, kings, soldiers, leaders, heroes, figures from the Bible. But I've discovered that there aren't that many women in windows. When there are any, they are often kneeling, sitting, adoring, tending, bearing, washing, or in passive attitudes. They are usually unidentified figures or women from the Bible plus the odd nurse or mythical character, and that's about it.
So it makes a wonderful change to come across a whole set of windows dedicated to real-life women who made important contributions to society, who were immortalised in glass because of their own lives and not because they were adjuncts to men and men's stories. The 'Noble Women' windows in Liverpool's spectacular Anglican cathedral commemorate twenty-three influential and inspirational women, but what's even more amazing is that they were installed in 1910, ie before women had the vote. I try to imagine how, 100+ years later, we would depict noble women and who they might be. I can't help but think there would be a fair few airbrushed 'celebs', media types, and politicians, But here we have strong women with undyed hair, lined faces, and unexceptional clothes, and the windows are all the more powerful for this very lack of glamour.
The women are on the staircase of the Lady Chapel and the windows can be viewed at very close quarters, so you are able to see the beautiful, simple, understated palette of blacks, browns, yellows and whites, all the narrative details in the background of each portrait (bricks, flowers, birds, buildings), as well as the folds and patterns of the women's outfits clothes. (They include Elizabeth Fry, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, Grace Darling, Catherine Gladstone, Susanna Wesley, Josephine Butler, Kitty Wilkinson and Queen Victoria.)
These were very forward-thinking windows, especially when you consider that the Cathedral Stained Glass Committee was made up exclusively of men, but then Liverpool has always had a history of strong women, and of revering and respecting them.
I'm now on a mission to find more noble women in windows. I have already found a few - of which, more anon - but sadly don't expect to find many. Tell me if I'm wrong.