Michael Mayer on Munich's church windows


They filter the sun's light and tell stories in vivid colours: Stained glass windows have fascinated people for centuries. Michael Mayer, who as a fifth generation descendent heads up the Mayer'sche Hofkunstanstalt, presents the most spectacular church windows the city has to offer.

Michael C. Mayer did not simply grow up with church windows; his shear enthusiasm for glass and its luminous expressiveness in art are probably part of his genetic make-up. He trained as a mosaic designer, born in 1967, and is the fifth generation of the family to run the Mayer'sche Hofkunstanstalt in Munich's city centre - a world-leading workshop for glass art. The company was founded in 1847 and has operated a branch in New York since 1888; today, he employs 43 people. So, where on earth do you begin in a city like Munich that is not exactly lacking in fascinating church windows? Mayer loves the modern specimens, but is also proud that his workshop has preserved the technique behind classic stained glass art for centuries. A favourite window? Impossible! But he is keen to invite you on a journey through the diversity of this artistic world.

Salvatorkirche church

"There's something missing," is perhaps a thought that crosses the observer's mind as they discover the four side windows of the Salvatorkirche for the first time: Only individual coloured sections decorate the windows otherwise sparsely decorated with black lines, while many areas have been left almost completely clear. The Gothic Church in the city's old town, situated near Odeonsplatz has been Greek Orthodox since 1829. In artistic terms, it represents an interesting example of proper, up-to-date monument protection. The tragic thing about these windows is that the original late-Gothic specimens dating from the end of the 15th century - like so many found in Munich's churches - were removed in 1941 to protect them from the bombing raids during the Second World War.

They were stored at Deutsche Bank. However, the building was completely destroyed in an attack. The glass windows virtually melted together, with only a few fragments remaining. They were rediscovered in the 1990s in a large box in the gallery. The original, coloured fragments were then put together according to old photographs that, fortunately, were still in existence. The remaining space was then filled with specially coated clear glass, with only the contours from the scenes traced in dark. That was something of a puzzle for many decades. But I think it highlights a great way to deal with this medieval heritage and especially its imperfections."


Funeral parlour at the cemetery at Perlacher Forst

"The choice in favour of these windows may not be obvious at first glance: In the monumental, listed funeral parlour dating from 1931, they initially appear very simple. No figures, no scenes, just a few colours. But I really like these works by Karl Knappe. A universal artist who lived from 1884 to 1970, and who painted, drew, sculpted and also worked a lot with glass. He was very closely associated with my grandfather and had a lasting impact on our company, because he had a strong influence on shifting our focus to the Modern, and he also played a decisive role in developing the Mosaic. In this room, I like the perfect combination of architecture with its delicate, simple glass windows that help to establish this building's incredibly beautiful tranquillity."


Frauenkirche cathedral

"And, of course, you have the Frauenkirche, our cathedral! Anyone who hasn't seen it doesn't yet know Munich's stained glass church windows! This late Gothic church, completed in 1494, combines windows of various styles: At its front in the chancel area, medieval works still preserved have been grouped together, including the original stained glass window by Peter Hemmel dating from 1490, named after the founder Wilhelm Scharfzandt; it reveals three scenes from the life of Mary. Some of the windows originate from the previous church dated around 1430, including the Dreikönigsfenster (epiphany window) or the rot-grüne Passion‘ (red-green passion) in the Kapelle Mariä Opferung (Chapel of the Assumption). Situated further back in the church's interior, visitors will find more modern windows. However, the transition between the two was beautifully executed. This does not have the effect - as in some churches – of a gallery, where every artist was allowed to create a window that has nothing to do with the other exhibitors. Once again, I especially like a work by Karl Knappe: 'Die Engel Gottes Wächter über die Erde und ihr Wachstum' (The Angel of God, Guardian of the Earth and its Growth') dating from 1961 and situated above the Sixtusportal to the church's north side. The angels in the image protect the earth from the atomic bomb. Fascinating in artistic terms, with a touching content."


St. Johann Baptist church

"There were thirteen stained glass painting shops in Munich at the beginning of the 19th century, and this Neo-Gothic church situated on Johannisplatz in Haidhausen district offers a fascinating mixture of the different workshops: There you will find windows by us, as well as from Kirchmair / Brückl, Bockhorni or van Treeck. Naturally, this variety is especially exciting for an expert, while the layman can enjoy an artistically fascinating experience when visiting the church. This is because the windows originate from one entire epoch. They all originate from between 1903 and 1918, and therefore are a perfect fit in stylistic terms. Behind the altar they reveal their patron, Saint John the Baptist; the nave is dedicated to the life and work of the saints, some of whom are relatively unknown today. Almost all of them were designed by the Munich-based artist Augustin Pacher, who portrayed himself in the so-called "Fenster der Ordensleute" (Window of the Religious) to the left of the nave as the painter in grey. The windows often reveal a clear indication of inspiration taken from Art Nouveau, despite the Neo-Gothic arrangement. At the very bottom, there are often references to founders, artists and workshops for the respective window."


Gedenkraum (memorial room) in the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall)

"Leave behind the cacophony of Marienplatz, go up one floor in the city hall and marvel: The Gedenkraum (memorial hall) commemorates the dead of the two World Wars, as well as the city's members of staff who were killed in the line of service. In this room, which was created in 1958 to mark the city's 800th. birthday, I like the quiet mood, which is in no small way attributable to its glass windows. These too – created by Karl Knappe, like those in the funeral parlour at the cementery at Perlacher Forst – are slightly opalescent with blue elements on the side and top. This means that the glass shimmers slightly into a milky cloudiness, thereby capturing additional light. The windows even seem to shine beautifully in cloudy weather. By the way, there is also the golden stone mosaic on the front of Karl Knappe. "

A tour of the Neues Rathaus

Herz-Jesu-Kirche church

"It is rare in a big city like Munich that new churches are still being built. Here in Neuhausen, this was the case in 2000 after the former church burned down there. The architects Allmann Sattler Wappner succeeded in building a fantastic church, with a preceding portal that stands proudly to the full height of the building, and which consists of blue glass. Perhaps the largest church portal in the world and a very special 'window'. This is because we printed this glass according to plans by the British artist Alexander Beleschenko with blue nail symbols. These are not arranged in random fashion, but rather correspond to the letters of the alphabet. Beleschenko thus coded a text from the Passion of St. John's Gospel. It tells a biblical story, as did the figurative glass painters many hundreds of years ago, but in a modern way. Incidentally, it was not until the 1990s that this technique of printing glass with enamel colours was developed together with the artist."



St. Florian church

"Another new building, this time in Messestadt Riem and dating from the year 2005 with two fascinating modern church windows: The artist Hella Santarossa created a huge window sitting behind the altar using the 'Action Painting' technique: 17.5 x 7 metres in height! 'Resurrectio', resurrection, is the name of the work, which shines in a variety of yellow shades. It faces west. Why not visit it in the afternoon! The radiant golden light that fills the church is truly stunning. And then, despite all this fascination, you are kindly asked to turn around! On the opposite side, you can see another large-format piece of glass art work: The Kreuzweg (way of the cross) by Horst Thürheimer covering 14 glass surfaces, each one roughly 100 by 285 cm in size, and which can all be opened to the church. The work is abstract but skilfully executed in artistic terms. The contrasting effect between the gloomy depiction of the way of the cross and the resurrection behind the altar has a tremendous power to it."


St. Lukas church

"This large church situated opposite Prater Island is essentially considered the Protestant cathedral of Munich. The original windows, created in the late 19th century, were all destroyed during the war. When tidying up one of the storehouses of our workshops a few years ago, we found drawings of the two rosettes on the south and north side of the church. These drawings were the work of British artist William Francis Dixon in 1896. In 2008, the artist Reiner John took these drawings and transformed them into reality in contemporary fashion with a bronze-coloured grid and the implied figurative drawings in black. The rosette to the south with its blue colour accents in the middle represents the ascension of Christ, while the other represents the birth of Christ. There are also windows that radiate from above the altar; these were created in 1946, in part by the artist Hermann Kaspar. He remained controversial because of his leading role in National Socialism."


Über die Mayer’sche Hofkunstanstalt

The company was founded in 1847 and has had a branch in New York since 1888; today Michael Mayer employs 43 people in the fifth generation, who together create the highest quality in the sense of craftsmanship and art. The materials used for the works of art are glass, ceramics and mosaic.

Text: Iris Röll; Photos: Frank Stolle


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