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John La Farge Stained Glass

Christ Church

Christian Knight

Lonsdale Company Stockholders Memorial Windows: Christian Knight, ca. 1883-84.

Madonna and Child

Lonsdale Company Stockholders Memorial Windows: Madonna and Child, ca. 1883-84.

Venetian Banker

Lonsdale Company Stockholders Memorial Windows: Venetian Banker, ca. 1883-84.

Christ Church
1643 Lonsdale Avenue
Lincoln, RI 02865


Many of La Farge’s windows were created for churches that were built in medieval revival styles which provided a sense of continuity and familiar forms to the parishioners. Repetition and tradition is at the heart of the mass, which is a symbolic re-enactment of the sacrament. This did not prevent some architects from creating quite original buildings, however—H.H. Richardson’s Trinity Church is an outstanding example. William Ware and Henry Van Brunt, who also designed Memorial Hall at Harvard, provided La Farge with a suitable structure for his original interpretation of Renaissance art in Christ Church, Episcopal in Lincoln, Rhode Island.[1] It is an English rural Gothic style structure built in stone, with twin entrances, a bell tower, a broad gabled roof and a rhythmic row of attached buttresses  along the side of the nave. The interior has a massive timber framed ceiling.

Christ Church was funded by the Lonsdale Company (the manufacturing arm of Rhode Island's Goddard-Ives-Brown clan, all descendants of Nicholas Brown).  To memorialize the  founding stockholders of the Lonsdale Company, one of the largest textile firms in Rhode Island, La Farge designed three windows for the chancel, which were formally dedicated, along with the church, on 12 July 1884.[2]

La Farge’s three large windows represent a Christian Knight, a Madonna and Child, and a Venetian Banker in c1883-84, as memorial windows for the Lonsdale Company Stockholders, who were major economic powers in Rhode Island and owned mills in this district known as Lonsdale. In 1883, the stockholders were John Carter Brown, Moses Brown Ives, Robert H. Ives, and Charlotte R. Goddard. The Christian Knight recalls La Farge’s earliest design in stained glass, a window depicting the Chevalier Bayard proposed for Memorial Hall, Harvard. The Madonna is quite naturalistic, and is dedicated to Charlotte R. Goddard. The figure of the Venetian Banker is puzzling – what is a banker doing in a sacred conversation with a Christian knight and the Madonna? It is as if he photobombed the chancel of the church, inserting himself into the holy company. He is richly dressed, and seems to be examining a coin in his hand – hardly the image of a saint. La Farge seems to have modeled the figure on a Venetian nobleman such as the portrait of Francesco Franceschini (Ringling Museum, Sarasota), as painted by Paolo Veronese.

In Venetian art, there are precedents for including patrons in sacred settings; Tintoretto included three lawyers in a painting of the resurrection of Jesus in the Doge’s Palace in Venice. The Renaissance artist honored the patrons with a privileged position as spectators of the resurrection, and they look on with open-armed admiration. La Farge’s windows represent the virtues of defending the faith, the family, and business interests. La Farge was probably not being ironic, but realistic. Rejecting an over-romanticized view of the artist’s moral purity, La Farge recognized that bankers faced the same task of maintaining their integrity while living in the material world: “The artist or the monk is no more extraordinary in his self-protection against the world, as a matter of common-sense, than the bank cashier who sits within railings, or a bank president who can only be seen between such an hour and such an hour.”[3] The Venetian banker also exemplifies a pride in national identity that La Farge could share. He wrote: “Venice to us is a name of the past; but the idea of the glory of a State exists for us as it did for her citizens and artists.”[4]




[1] The architects are identified by James L. Yarnall, James L. Yarnall, “John La Farge's Windows for the Caldwell Sisters of Newport,” Rhode Island History, 64, no. 2 (Summer, 2006): 44.

[3] John La Farge, “Art and Artists,” International Monthly, 4 (Sept. 1901): 486.

[4] Ibid., 489.